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Shark experts urge awareness with season underway on Cape Cod

Native seals are already attracting white sharks off Provincetown.

Shark experts predict a presence of white sharks in line with last year's sightings off Cape Cod and the Islands.

Bryan Legare manages the Shark Ecology Research Program with the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. He spoke to Morning Edition host Patrick Flanary about what we can expect this summer.

Patrick Flanary I'm looking for a broad view of shark season, as I believe we're already in it.

Bryan Legare Yes, we got a first white shark sighting off Dolphin Fleet [in Provincetown], where a 12-foot white shark preyed on a seal right in front of a bunch of tourists and caused a lot of buzz. But the buzz is good because it allows us to remind everyone about being shark-safe throughout the summer. They are here. It's not something to be afraid of. But my main focus is we can respect them and understand what they're doing.

Patrick Flanary Was it early in the season for that kind of activity?

Bryan Legare Maybe for it to be that dramatic. It's generally the right time of the year where we get the first predation. I think last year it was near Race Point [in Provincetown]. And often you've got these predations early in the season near shore because the seals are a bit naïve.

Patrick Flanary What data are you watching right now?

Bryan Legare The first piece of data that we generally get are seal predation. Seals, at this time of the year, we kind of notice that they're a little naïve, especially young ones. They'll be swimming a little farther offshore and some of them start getting bit, and often a bit seal sometimes makes it to the beach and we'll see that carcass or that animal with a wound.

Patrick Flanary And the sharks will travel outside of the surf break, where they look for these seals, right?

Bryan Legare Absolutely. The seal haul-outs are switching from their breeding haul-outs down on Monomoy to their seasonal haul-outs off of Head of the Meadow [in Truro]. What we're finding is that the sharks definitely stay just right outside the surf break and hang out right near that haul-out. So that's where you're more likely to find one.

Patrick Flanary Over the last 10 years, the state and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy [in Chatham] tagged 277 white sharks. What are you expecting this year?

Bryan Legare For sharks near shore I'm predicting a similar presence as we did last year. They're starting to show up and be more present in places like Maine and Nova Scotia as well. So that's going to be interesting to watch.

Patrick Flanary You're tagging sharks and you've also developed technology to track these tagged sharks right down to the meter, and you track how they navigate shallow water. Can you tell us a bit about the project you piloted a few years back?

Bryan Legare What we started on Cape Cod is looking at how the white sharks used shallow water habitat—the habitat we share with them. I take the same technology that the state and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy are using, but I reconfigure the receivers to put them in close proximity, about 300 to 400 meters apart. And by doing that, I can triangulate the detections down to about the meter.

Patrick Flanary Bottom line, what do we need to know? Can we go into the water?

Bryan Legare You can go into the water. But I would absolutely follow the guidelines set by the National Park Service: not going beyond the surf-break, not swimming in murky waters, not swimming near seals. There's a whole list of good recommendations that they have put out, and I think people have been following them pretty well over the last few years.

Patrick Flanary Sharks use the same waters we use. This is their habitat after all, right?

Bryan Legare Absolutely. They're not land sharks, they're ocean sharks. And when we go into the ocean, it is their home.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.