This happened one day last November, a dark, damp day with a cold northeast wind blowing off the ocean. I had taken a walk across Duck Creek on Uncle Tim’s bridge and up onto Cannon Hill. Coming back around the south side of the island, I heard in the marsh off to my left a flopping noise, which could’ve been something, but I decided it was just the waves lapping against the marsh peat.
When I got back to the footbridge, I saw a young couple standing about halfway across it, peering intently down at the water. As I approached them, they seemed unaware of my presence, but eventually the man, holding a smart phone, turned to me and said, “We just saw a great white shark in here.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yeah – it was just here under the bridge a few minutes ago.”
I was skeptical, but also excited, because I had never seen a great white up close and personal. In fact I have not seen one at all except on media. He went on: “I saw him first over in the marsh down there,” he said, pointing at the spot where I had passed just several minutes before and heard what I thought were waves lapping against the marsh. “Then he made his way up toward us and a few minutes ago he was right there under the bridge in the water.” We all fell silent, staring at the water under the bridge which was approaching high tide, but saw nothing.
“I managed to get a short video of it,” he said. “Here,” and he held up his phone to show me I didn’t have my glasses on, but there was certainly something up against the marsh grass.
“I don’t know how large it is,” the man said.” but from the size 0f the dorsal fin and tail it must be oh,at least nine feet, huh?”
I thought, paraphrasing Roy Scheider’s character in Jaws, “We may need a bigger bridge.”
For the last several years, of course, great whites have been seen regularly along the ocean shore, then in Cape Cod Bay, and even into Wellfleet Harbor in lesser numbers. They seem to be inching their way further and further inland, and now this man has allegedly spotted one in Duck Creek within a few yards of downtown Wellfleet. What’s next – sharks in Gull Pond?
As we talked the young woman next to him just stared intently at the water below the bridge, occasionally commenting on something we were saying’ but never taking her eyes off the water.
With that mixture of fear and fascination that sharks seem to hold for us, I wanted to believe him, but several factors argued against his claim. For one thing, the time of year – mid-November – made it unlikely (the peak times for shark sightings on the Cape are August through October). Also, in his video, the tail is not well defined, and it is hard to tell whether it’s a fish tail or a cetacean tail. Despite my desire to believe him, I suspected that what he actually saw was a dolphin, or a porpoise, not a shark.
Still, we see what we want to see, what we expect to see. Regarding sharks, our expectations – even our desires – have been profoundly changed and complicated by the appearance of these powerful predators. Like our ambivalent reaction to horror movies, we both yearn to see sharks and fear to see them – the difference being that this is no movie, but a reminder that we may not always be at the top of the food chain...