Cape Cod scientists are mapping out safer waters for sharks and swimmers

For summer beachgoers in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, great white shark sightings are all too common. Shark populations have been rebounding since the 1970s protections prevented sharks and seals from being hunted, so now, lifeguards regularly clear the waters due to a shark or two. But the question remains: how can sharks and swimmers coexist?

To answer this question, researchers are creating an ocean map that effectively serves as a weather report for sharks. The map is a color-coded graphical representation of data, including shark sightings compared to factors such as temperature, tides, and even lunar cycles. In this way, researchers hope to create a resource to indicate relative shark risk on any given day.

The creation of the map was spurred by Cape Cod’s first fatal shark attack since 1936. The 2017 death of Arthur Medici was just one of many bites of the season, but even with training for lifeguards and civilians on immediate bite care and experimental solutions like shark nets, modifying civilian behavior and keeping swimmers out of the water still remains the most effective solution for public safety.

Megan Winton, a research scientist at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, is in charge of developing the new shark map. She and her team started by placing tracker buoys at popular swimming destinations. The buoys inform lifeguards if sharks are detected close to the shoreline. Winton has also spent countless hours boating around Cape Cod, mapping, tagging, and noting distinguishing features on sharks she spots. All this data will be layered into the map to boost accuracy.

Winton says her team hopes to have beta versions of their map ready by the end of the year. She believes this is the first map of its kind to help humans and sharks coexist, and she’s excited about the opportunity to protect communities while continuing to foster the health of shark populations. She told Wired,“I am just so excited for what the future holds—for not just shark science, for all of wildlife science.”

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