Tips to avoid a great white shark attack on cape cod

How to avoid a great white shark attack on cape cod

great white shark alert! cape beach sharks are on the prowl all summer long. Is it safe to swim on cape cod?

You can’t avoid them, so follow these tips to reduce your chances of ending up in a shark’s belly. 

tIps to avoid a great white shark attack

1. Stay close to shore

In 2012 the inevitable occurred. a local swimmer was bitten by a great white off of Truro.

The news media has circled in to reconfirm your fears about the safety of your cape cod vacation by posting every video and sightings of even harmless basking sharks as if a mutant ill-tempered jaws suddenly resurfaced with friggin’ laser beams on her head.

The 2012 Ballston beach shark attack occurred 80 yards from shore. 

While the Ballston Beach attack was just an exploratory bite, which is common amoung great white shark attacks on humans, try swimming back to shore with one leg hanging off and you’ll quickly agree that it makes sense to play it safe and stay nearer the shoreline.

In 2018 a bodyboarder was killed off of Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. As the numbers of both great white sharks and seals increases each year, the risks continue to climb.

you can’t avoid seals. They can outswim sharks. you cannot.

A seal swims close to shore, which raises the risk of attacks by great white sharks on cape cod.

Stay near shore. Keep your dog (and kids) close to shore on outer Cape beaches where Great White Sharks are hunting seals.

This includes beaches for all towns on the outer cape, and in particlular the Atlantic-facing waters off Monomoy Island, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.

This includes the entire stretch of the beautiful yet shark-infested cape cod national seashore. and don’t think you’re safe elsewhere on the cape — if it’s salt water, it’s shark territory. This includes the beaches of Nantucket sound as well as Cape Cod Bay. 

don’t look for fins. the best way to spot sharks from shore is to look for shadows, slowly creeping past. use polarized lenses and plan to sit for an eternity before you see one, unless you’re lucky. 

If you see a shark spotting airplane circling above an area nearby, use extra caution.  Check out the sharktivity map and app from the atlantic white shark conservancy to see how many hungry rows of teeth have been spotted in your area.

But above all, stay close to shore. 

Shark attacking a seal at Nauset Beach in Orleans on Cape Cod.

2. avoid swimming near seals (?)

Avoid swimming near seals—a tip you’ve heard ad infinitum each time the TV news exploits a shark sighting.

good luck.

Never throw a tennis ball out too far! Both of these dogs are within strike range for a shark.
Never throw a tennis ball out too far! Both of these dogs are within strike range for a shark.

fat, tasty seals overrun the outer cape beaches due to decades of our efforts to protect them. you’ll never avoid seals at some beaches, there’s too many.

so if you must swim with seals nearby, observe them for unusual behavior. if you notice them take off suddenly or converge close to shore, they might be trying to avoid a great white shark. or they just might be messing with you.

A seal appears just offshore at Race Point.
Seals swim back and forth at many cape cod beaches. Making it literally impossible to not swim near sharks if you decide to enter the ocean.

Sharks hunt by racing in towards the shore, and you won’t see them coming if they mistake you for a greasy seal.

on south beach in chatham, for example, you may see seals swimming almost onshore, inside of the dropoff point, to avoid great white sharks. so think twice before drinking a few beers and showing your friends how tough you are by swimming out beyond the breakers.

remember: Seals can outswim sharks. You cannot.

Surfing in a group of people on lifeguard-protected beaches lowers your risk of a shark attack, but you still are at risk.
Surfing in a group of people on lifeguard-protected beaches lowers your risk of a shark attack, but you still are at risk.

3. avoid swimming alone in shark-infested cape cod waters

the easiest way to reduce the odds a great white shark bites you is to stay close to other people when swimming.

It’s macabre math. While it may not prevent an attack, swimming in the middle of a crowd will certainly will lower the odds that you will be the one who gets bitten.

There’s nothing scarier than being far offshore on a surfboard by yourself, and having a big seal loudly splash its head up 5 feet behind you. you never know what’s coming behind you for a closer look.

so don’t go it alone. having even one person next to your cuts your chances of getting eaten in half. now that’s smart math they don’t teach in school.

Grey seals gather onshore on a beach in Chatham, MA. Avoid swimming in waters with lots of seals to reduce risk of a shark attack.
Grey seals gather onshore on a beach in Chatham, MA. Avoid swimming in waters with lots of seals to reduce risk of a shark attack.

4. don’t do anything that is known to trigger great white sharks to attack

great white sharks locate food by sensing vibrations and smells in the water.

flailing and splashing simulate injured prey to sharks, and can stimulate an attack response. avoid unnecessary splashing, kicking or struggling motions when swimming.

dogs who swim poorly are sitting ducks. keep them onshore on beaches when the great whites come cruising by.

don’t go in the water on cape cod if you are bleeding or have open wounds. great white sharks have exceptional senses of smell. scent is detected by sharks using their olfactory bulbs, and these bulbs compose 14% of great whites’ brain mass. blood, urine, and other scents will alert great whites to your presence and put you both on the menu.

thankfully the era of the 1980’s bright neon wetsuit colors has subsided, as bright colors were said to attract sharks. wetsuits are mostly dark now, but unfortunately so are the seals.

from below the profile of a paddling surfer resembles a seal, at least in theory. body borders wearing fins look even more delicious, complete with the thumping of surf fins to heighten awareness. body boarders might as well dangle a sunday roast off a chain on their ankle.

consider surfing inside the lifeguard-protected beach area where spotters are on the lookout for sharks. a solitary hike down marconi beach in the peaceful early evening might provide some great waves to ride, but getting pulled from a barrel by a two ton great white can ruin a gnarly wave fast, bro.

great white shark attack on cape cod

5. Don’t buy into the great white shark hysteria created by the news media.


Sharks have always hunted for prey off the shores off of Cape Cod. Sure, there’s far more great whites now, but they’re not looking to eat people.

Prior to the fatality off of Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet in 2018 the last person who had died after getting bitten by a shark in Massachusetts since a poor fellow in Buzzard’s Bay back in 1936 — and that shark wasn’t even a great white.

The 1936 attack was from a bull shark, a species that can live in fresh water rivers and lakes. If you want to be scared of a shark, that’s one worth worrying about. They’ll get you in freshwater.

recently there have been sharp increases in great white shark sightings off of the cape cod coast, due mainly to an increase in food supply due to decades of human efforts to protect gray seals. You’ll see videos on the news seemingly every week of a shark feeding a few feet offshore. It’s our new reality.

sharks prefer these calorie-rich seals over bony dogs and humans, but at the same time its hard to resist and easy meal. exploratory bites like the one that killed Joseph C. Troy, Jr. in 1936 or Arthur Medici in 2018 at Ballston Beach in Wellfleet are often all it takes to be fatal. 

follow these tips to prevent a shark attack and you might stand a chance. good luck!