Why Have Sharks Returned to Cape Cod?

It involves Richard Nixon, oddly enough

Cape Cod
An idyllic view of Cape Cod, sans sharks.
A n v e s h/Unsplash

Especially in pandemic times, outdoor activities have become an essential part of most people’s routines. That can include trips to the beach and dips in the ocean; perhaps even a spot of surfing or kayaking. And the idyllic beaches of Cape Cod are popular for people looking for relaxation for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only creatures that are flocking to these waters in large numbers. So too are white sharks, and that’s made for some uncomfortable encounters — and laid the groundwork for potential tragedies.

A new report by C.J. Chivers in The New York Times Magazine chronicles the resurgent shark population in the waters off of Cape Cod — and a number of harrowing shark attacks on people that have left some wounded or dead. It’s a disconcerting narrative — and it’s one that prompts a number of follow-up questions, not the least of which focuses on why the shark population has increased so dramatically.

As Chivers notes, the rise in the number of sharks can be attributed to a Nixon-era piece of legislation: the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This law protected marine mammals in the waters around the United States. And while that doesn’t apply to the decidedly non-mammalian sharks, it did benefit seals. And where seals go, so go the sharks that look upon them as tasty, swimming meals.

Finding the appropriate response to the uptick in sharks in and around Cape Cod isn’t an easy task. As the Times article points out, existing laws make it impossible to try to cull seals — which means that trying to improve awareness of, and response times to, the region’s sharks makes the most sense. And being a little more aware of what to expect when you dip your toes into the water is never a bad thing.

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