Tips to avoid a great white shark attack on cape cod

great white sharks on cape cod

The number of great white sharks on cape cod has exploded in recent years.  Before you venture out into the water, make sure to be aware of the danger.  Shark attacks on people are rare in Cape Cod, Massachusetts waters, but that doesn’t mean it can’t and won’t happen.

Why are there so many great white sharks on cape cod?

Seal poop.  Yup, seal poop.  As the grey seal population has exploded in recent years, so have the number of sharks looking for a fat, blubbery meal.  Ocean currents carry seal fecal remnants far away, where great whites’ keen sense of smell draws them into the source of all that poop.

Seals poop a lot. adult male seals on average consume 35-50 pounds of food per day and there's an estimated 50,000 seals on the cape
Seals poop a lot adult male seals on average consume 35-50 pounds of food per day and there’s an estimated 50,000 seals on the cape

Each year great white sharks return in greater numbers. Get used to it.  And keep in mind that all the seal poop is in the water where you swim.  Yuck.

How often do great white sharks on Cape Cod attack people?

The last human who died from a shark bite on Cape Cod was nearly 100 years ago, and that shark was thought to be a bull shark and not a great white.

In 2012 a swimmer was attacked by a great white while swimming off Ballston beach in Truro, Massachusetts.  It was an exploratory attack, and the swimmer was able to make it back to shore.

In 2017 a shark bit a paddleboard off of Marconi Beach in Wellfleet.  In recent years there have been a few incidents of sharks harassing kayaks.  Unfortunately it’s only a matter of time before someone else gets bitten, but thankfully shark attacks on cape cod are relatively infrequent.

tIps to avoid a great white shark attack

How can I prevent getting bitten by a great white shark?

To avoid getting bitten by a shark, follow these tips to avoid a great white shark attack. And remember, the only surefire method to avoid a shark attack on cape cod is to swim in a pond.

The Sharktivity app provides info on great white shark sightings on cape cod.
The Sharktivity app provides info on great white shark sightings on cape cod.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservatory has a cool website with maps of the sharks they track. Check out their site to view the map or download the Sharktivity app.

Note that there’s no guarantees, they can’t track all of them. But it is nice to know if they just reported a shark at a beach 1/2 mile away from yours.

If you see a shark spotting airplane circling offshore off the beach you’re visiting, that’s another sign of likely activity in the water.

What beaches on cape cod have the most sharks?

All ocean beaches on cape cod have sharks. But great whites are more often documented on the outer cape beaches, stretching from Monomoy Island and Chatham all the way up to Provincetown.

If there are a lot of seals near a beach, then there’s likely an increased presence of sharks.  And the seals seem to be everywhere these days.  But pay particular attention on the outer cape cod beaches, they’re more likely to have great whites prowling about.

Are there any cape cod beaches without sharks?

great white shark attack on cape codJust the ponds.  It’s definitely less likely to run into a great white on bay-side beaches, or those off of Nantucket sound on the south side of the cape.

But sharks are still there, so don’t think because the beach you visit isn’t on the TV news or getting fly-overs from the shark spotting planes that there aren’t any hungry great whites in the area. Sharks can travel long distances on their search for tasty seals, so there really aren’t any ocean beaches on cape cod that don’t have sharks.

Types of sharks on cape cod

  • Great white sharks
  • Shortfin Mako Sharks
  • Blue Sharks
  • Tiger Sharks
  • Spiny Dogfish
  • Smooth Dogfish
  • Basking Sharks
  • Sandtiger Sharks (aka Brown Sharks)
  • Porbeagle Sharks
  • Thresher Sharks
  • Smooth Hammerhead Sharks
  • Dusky Sharks

Most of the types of sharks on cape cod are seasonal, hitting Massachusetts waters during their seasonal migrations. Sharks typically appear on cape cod in the warmest months, from May to November. Only one species, the Porbeagle, lives year round on the cape.

What should you do if a shark attacks you?

Typically a great white shark attack will occur when you’re not expecting it.  They’ll crash into you with great force for an exploratory bite. Feel free to punch the shark in the eye or gill if you can. Most often when they determine that you’re not a seal they’ll leave you alone.

If you do get attacked by a shark, don’t panic. Relax. Take a deep breath. Simply back to shore and get medical help.

It all sounds so easy here, but in reality you’ll be in shock and lucky if your legs or arms are still moderately attached to your body while the blood pours out from the razor-sharp rows of serrated shark teeth. Just try to make it to shore.

Is my dog safe from sharks on Cape Cod?

Monty races a seal to, retrieve a tennis ball at Nauset Light Beach in Easham, which allows dogs all summer long.
Monty races a seal to retrieve a tennis ball at Nauset Light Beach in Eastham, which allows dogs all summer long.

No shark attacks on dogs have been reported that we know of (and you can bet that TV news would be sure to let you know if it ever happens). But if you plan to throw a tennis ball far out into the waters (especially off of Nauset Beach in Orleans or any of the Chatham beaches, including South Beach and Monomoy) then this is very likely subject to change.

Be smart when letting your dog swim on the cape’s ocean beaches. Keep them close to shore to reduce (but not eliminate) the risk.  Same with your kids. Please.

Fishing for Sharks on Cape Cod

Catching a big shark on a rod and reel can be an amazing experience. But don’t tell that to a hopeful tuna fishermen whose bait gets stolen by a shark, there’s nothing worse than the ruined rig and ruined spirits that result from a shark on the line.

Great white sharks are protected, as are several other species on cape cod such as basking sharks, sandbar (brown) sharks, and sandtiger sharks.  Cut them loose unharmed if you get them.

fishing for striped bass at race point beach

Brown sharks can be caught right off shore on the Nantucket sound beaches at night. They’re harmless but use caution if you get one, and make sure to release them unharmed.

Great white sharks on cape cod aren’t typically targeted by fishermen. In 2017 one unlucky fisherman had a white shark attack a smaller fish he was reeling in. So use caution even if you’re not trying to fish for sharks, you might end up catching one anyway.

Cape cod’s great white shark population has been growing every year, and that trend is expected to continue. With a little common sense and a little more luck, hopefully it will be a long time before we see another great white shark attack on cape cod beaches.

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