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Wellfleet Officials Hold Forum to Discuss Shark Safety

Sarah Tan

After the Cape’s first ever shark bite fatality, Wellfleet town officials met last night to take suggestions from shark experts and local residents about how to prevent another shark attack in the future.

The meeting filled the gymnasium at Wellfleet Elementary with anxious residents and local officials, all looking to find a solution to what many see as a great white shark problem. Many residents called for the town and state to take legislative action to cull the seal or shark population, while others suggested safety measures from drone surveillance, to coast guard patrols, to arm bands that emit noise to deter sharks. Wellfleet town administrator Daniel Hoort said one thing they are sure of is this: for any effort Wellfleet makes towards shark safety and shark attack prevention, other towns on the Cape will have to follow suit.

"We're saddened by the loss of life in Wellfleet, but it's not just here. A shark doesn't know the boundaries of our towns. We look at this as a solution that has to be with all Cape towns and the National Seashore," he said. 

Many at the meeting called for culls of the sharks and seals, saying an incident like what killed 26-year-old Arthur Medici was an accident they had foreseen for years. Brewster resident Gail Sluis was at Newcomb Hollow Beach at the time of the incident, and helped administer to Medici's injuries.

"This was a beautiful young man who lost his life because we’ve been sitting here doing nothing," she said. "I’m sure lots of people in the audience were here that day. It was beyond frightening, and no sharks or seals are worth a young man’s life, they’re just not."

But Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution seal researcher Andrea Bogomolni argued that calls to cull the seals and sharks weren't productive - only a change in federal legislation would allow towns to do so, as both are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. She added that the two populations' impacts on the Cape ecosystem are not yet known, and culling could be detrimental to the environment. 

"It could have tragic consequences, and it's part of the reason why we have protections in place for these large animals, because they contribute to the ecosystem in ways we had no idea about until they started coming back, they provide nutrients to our oceans," she said. "So there are other issues we have to talk about when we talk about getting rid of animals in our ecosystem." 

The town has promised to look into improving cellphone service and communications near beaches by next year, and they will be bringing in a trauma counselor to speak with people who were at Newcomb Hollow Beach the day of the attack. They will also be holding Stop the Bleed trainings in the coming weeks to teach people how to tourniquet wounds in an emergency.