For the last several years, the sighting and tagging of sharks off the coast of Cape Cod has sparked enormous interest amongst visitors as well as residents who live in the area. The shark sightings have also attracted attention from all forms of media from traditional news organizations to social media.
So is this good or bad for the Cape economy? As with any issue, it is not black and white and my sense is for every positive or negative, one could reverse your view depending on the latest person spoken to on the issues. Therefore, the following lays out some of the major issues and one can conclude for themselves as to the potential impact to the economy.
The shark sightings have raised the profile of the Cape and brought International attention to this incredible piece of shoreline. The sightings have also resulted in beach closures for extended periods in areas where families come for their summer vacations. However, the number of visitors to the towns’ most affected by the sightings and beach closures do not seem to have been impacted negatively (at least in the near term). Time will tell if the excitement of shark sightings will lessen and visitors might conclude there are other places to spend their vacations with less risk of beach closures and/or perceived dangers of swimming in our waters.
This bring us to a related issue which may be a bigger threat to the economy than the sharks themselves. One reason why more sharks may be spending their summers right off the Cape shoreline is due to the huge and ever expanding population of seals. The seals are a very ample food supply for the sharks. The seals are also becoming an issue for the fishing industry as they consume significant amounts of fish. The seals are also a significant attraction for the tourism industry as one can be almost guaranteed of seal sightings when one pays for a seal boat excursion. Lastly, there is the concern over how much pollution the seals are now creating in our waters, which if the population continues to grow, will add to our already well known water issues facing the Cape.
It should be noted that the ever expanding seal population is a relatively recent phenonema in our waters since they were put on the Federal endangered species list about 25 years ago. While no one knows the actual count, suffice to say it is in the tens of thousands and growing. I recently heard that there will be a “study” to determine the actual seal count though one could argue that this wastes valuable time in addressing the issue.
In conclusion, while we can potentially find ways to capitalize on the interest that shark sightings bring to the Cape (both from a scientific as well as tourist perspective), the more urgent threat to the economy could very well be with the seals!