It’s Jaws all over again

Scared by sharks, how will we respond this time?

THE FATAL SHARK ATTACK on 26-year-old boogie border Arthur Medici Saturday at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet scared the hell out of me. Reading about the terrible incident, I could hear the John Williams theme to Jaws in my head.

“Don’t go in the water.”

The 1975 Steven Spielberg movie, based on the book by Peter Benchley, scared the hell out of America. Beach attendance plummeted that summer and the movie transformed great white sharks from fairly obscure creatures into deadly predators capable of tracking individual human beings. It was all hogwash, of course, but people were so scared that shark-fishing tournaments became all the rage. Just as in the movie, the answer to shark attacks was to kill the sharks, and that may be urge this time around.

In an editorial, the Boston Herald demanded a response to the attack on Medici. “Whatever measures are necessary to keep the beaches safe must be taken despite the squeamishness those actions might provoke in some,” the Herald said. “Whether the solution is to cull the seal population, the shark population, or both, we must not hesitate to do it. Perhaps there’s a third way, but action must be taken swiftly to assure Cape residents and tourists that they will not be preyed upon if they enter the waters off Cape Cod.”

Let’s think this through. Great white sharks are big and scary but they do not hunt humans. (Last year there were 88 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, including five fatalities. The last shark fatality in Massachusetts was in 1936.) However, sharks sometimes attack humans because they mistake them for seals. “Pretty much every shark bite is an accident. It’s mistaken identity,” Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the New York Times.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Still, there’s no denying that a rising population of seals and great white sharks off the coast of Massachusetts is creating a potentially dangerous situation. We should have seen this coming. Greg Skomal, a senior biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, was monitoring a great white shark from a boat in early August when it leaped out of the water toward him. Later that month, Dr. William Lytton was bitten by a shark while swimming just offshore in Truro. And then the attack on Medici over the weekend.

Officials are now trying to decide what to do, and lots of options are on the table. So many incidents in such a short period of time suggest caution is definitely warranted. Whether it’s time to call in the cavalry is another matter. This ain’t Hollywood, after all.