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Living with sharks and seals: Survey reveals locals, tourists, fishers view it differently

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Jennette Barnes
/
CAI
Andrea Bogomolni, chair of the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium, speaks as part of a panel at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Monday presenting the results of a survey about attitudes toward the growing presence of sharks and seals off Cape Cod. Other panelists included Owen Nichols, director of marine fisheries research at the Center for Coastal Studies, center; and Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance, right.

Cape Cod tourists view the growing population of sharks and seals differently than do local residents — especially commercial fishers, according to a new study.

Fishers tend to view seals as a nuisance, whereas tourists love them. But they agree on some things, said Jennifer Jackman, the lead researcher and a professor at Salem State University.

“[There are] some differences in perceptions about what is good for the ecosystem and what isn't, but there's a shared commitment to the ecosystem,” she said.

The researchers released a report of their survey Monday at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The survey measured the attitudes of three groups — tourists at the Cape Cod National Seashore, fishers, and voters — about the resurgence of seal and shark populations off Cape Cod.

Three universities and several local organizations cooperated on the survey, including the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, and Center for Coastal Studies. Woods Hole Sea Grant funded the work.

When it comes to sharks, tourists would rather heed shark warnings and stay in shallow water than reduce their visits to the beach, the survey found.

Seals draw both sharks and tourists, but they sometimes conflict with fisheries by eating fish out of the gear. The survey found voters and tourists oppose killing seals that interfere with fishing.

But Melissa Sanderson of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance said she was glad to see that the survey found some public support for non-lethal management of seals.

“This comes at a good time, because as we're developing these deterrents and doing research on what works and what doesn't work,” she said. “Knowing that the rest of the population — the voters, the public, the tourists — are supportive of those non-lethal management measures is really important to seeing that succeed.”

Increased shark and seal populations off Cape Cod have led to more human interaction, including a fatal shark bite off Wellfleet in 2018. Public education about how to interact with marine predators is important, the researchers said.

Few people alive today have ever seen a healthy predator population off the Cape, said Andrea Bogomolni, chair of the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium.

“With conservation success, fear and frustration have grown, but contrasting to this fear, sold-out seal and shark tours and thousands of visitors to the Cape Cod National Seashore indicate there's also a growing appreciation,” she said.