Few tourists stopping beach visits because of sharks
While many are frightened of great white sharks, a majority of people believe they have control over whether they encounter the apex predators along Cape Cod.
Tourists especially are taking actions to avoid shark encounters, but only a few Cape visitors have cut back on their beach trips because of sharks since a person was killed by a great white in Wellfleet four years ago.
That’s according to a new survey released Monday about humans coexisting with sharks and seals along the Cape.
Representative samples of Cape visitors, residents and commercial fishers — about 2,000 people in total — responded by mail and online to survey questions covering beliefs and attitudes about seals and sharks, their views of lethal and non-lethal management, and if the presence of seals and sharks has changed their behavior at the beach.
When they are at Cape beaches, residents and tourists alike take multiple actions to avoid encounters with sharks, with tourists being especially vigilant.
These actions include checking and obeying signage and warning systems (66% of residents, 77% of tourists), avoiding areas where sharks have been reported (63% of residents, 55% of tourists), following lifeguard instructions (54% of residents, 74% of tourists), and avoiding seals (57% of residents, 51% of tourists).
Tourists (40%) are more likely than residents (21%) and commercial fishers (10%) to visit patrolled beaches to reduce the risk of shark encounters.
“Tourists are the most active, which is probably a good indication of the work of beach managers to get out those messages about how to avoid shark encounters,” said principal study investigator Professor Jennifer Jackman, from Salem State University’s Department of Politics, Policy and International Relations.
Respondents in all three groups feel that they have control over whether or not they encounter sharks. Of residents, 68% said they have control, followed by 65% of tourists and 60% of commercial fishers.
But few respondents in any category say they limit splashing, use shark repellent devices, or had reduced the frequency of their beach visits (3% of tourists, 8% of residents, and 12% of commercial fishers).
Large majorities of respondents in each group support policies to prevent human-shark interactions, including increasing public education about sharks, improving signage at beaches, and establishing more patrols as a part of shark warning systems. However, commercial fishers consistently are less favorable toward these measures.
Commercial fishermen often have negative perceptions of seals and their ecological, economic, and fishery impacts. They tend to blame seals for reducing and suppressing fish stocks, hurting the economy and creating public safety risks by attracting sharks.
Moving forward, this survey will be provided to town, state and federal officials.
“They can then use that to identify and highlight the areas where we need to do some work,” said Lisa Sette, from the Center for Coastal Studies, adding, “It’s pretty clear that the public — tourists, voters, fishers — want more education, and they believe there is a need for more education. And also… the importance of signage.”