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Great White Sharks Return to Massachusetts Shores

By By Samantha Kramer, Staff Writer
July 19, 2012, 10:20:00 AM EDT

To shark expert Greg Skomal, it's just Jaws coming home.

This week, several great white sharks were spotted off the coast of Chatham, Mass., and two more near Cape Cod were swimming just 30 feet from the shore. One of the sharks was measured at 12 to 15 feet.

The summer months induce a chain reaction for shark sightings: Warm ocean temperatures entice more gray seals to the New England shores, and with more seals come more sharks.

Those who have been turning to the beaches to cool off from the heat should keep an eye out for fins.

The sharks have been paying more attention to New England the past few years because of the larger concentrations of gray seals, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Researcher Skomal said. The gray seal population off Cape Cod has grown from 10,000 to over 300,000 ever since environmental regulations were put in place to protect the seals.


Skomal says the sharks are right on schedule. Working with a team of marine biologists two years ago, he tagged five Atlantic white sharks and tracked their migration up and down the eastern coast.

While many people associate shark sightings as typical to Pacific coast regions, Massachusetts' Energy and Environmental Affairs Press Secretary Reggie Zimmerman says it's normal for sharks to return to the northern Atlantic coasts, especially if their food is there.

"The sharks return to hunt the gray seals that are here," said Zimmerman, who works directly with Skomal to reassure the public that the sharks usually aren't a threat. "It's pretty common for them to come back around this time of year."

Skomal's research landed him a documentary on Discovery Channel titled "Jaws Comes Home," a tagging study that explains the migratory patterns of sharks. The two sharks that were tagged in 2010 traveled more than 4,000 miles, rounding the tip of Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Zimmerman said those tagged sharks returned again this year to follow their food.

The United States averages 16 shark attacks each year, with only one fatality every two years. According to the International Shark Attack File, you have a higher chance of being struck by lightning, which kills about 41 people a year.

Zimmerman said there hasn't been a confirmed shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936.

He added that as long as beach-goers are aware of their surroundings and stay away from the seals, they shouldn't be worried about being attacked.

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