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As great white sharks continue to make their presence felt near Cape Cod’s easternmost towns, officials from those communities say regional collaboration is essential to protecting the public from the threat posed by shark attacks.
Along with the Cape Cod National Seashore, the six coastal communities from Provincetown to Chatham have been bolstering communications systems, purchasing beach-ready medical equipment, and improving signage and public education efforts since last September, when a 26-year-old Revere resident died after a shark attack off the coast of Wellfleet.
Since 2013, six outer and lower Cape towns, the National Seashore and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy have participated in a Regional Shark Working Group to address safety concerns. Their efforts got a boost this spring, as the state awarded a $383,000 grant to improve shark-safety measures.
In particular, the towns have focused on buying Stop the Bleed medical kits for the beaches and providing related training to beachgoers and public employees. Because a shark bite can cause someone to bleed to death within just a few minutes, the kits include gauze, tourniquets and other first-aid equipment to treat shark-attack victims on the scene while awaiting an ambulance.
Chatham used its $27,000 share of the grant to buy new signs, Stop the Bleed kits, and an ATV with a beach stretcher, according to Town Manager Jill Goldsmith. The town is also using operating funds to train employees, hold public Stop the Bleed trainings, and to extend lifeguard coverage past Labor Day.
After last year’s death, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s office called Wellfleet and asked what the state could do to help, said Town Administrator Daniel Hoort. The town consulted with its neighbors to decide what would help most.
The towns of Eastham, Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet, which already had an intermunicipal agreement to address common concerns, reached out to Orleans and Chatham. Though they can’t erase the shark threat, Hoort said, cooperation among the towns and the Cape’s state lawmakers has proven successful.
“In this situation, I would have to say that government worked exactly as it was supposed to work, in that the communities worked together,” Hoort said.
This isn’t a matter of controlling borders, he said. “The sharks don’t know our town lines.”
Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said Cape towns have a history of working together, but the level of cooperation has increased in recent years.
“I think it’s because our issues tend to cross our borders – coastal resilience, water quality, emergency preparedness,” Goldsmith said. “You would think it’s because we’re on an island, but it seems that nothing is contained within the town boundaries.”
The Regional Shark Working Group awaits the expected September release of the Woods Hole Group’s study examining cost-effective shark safety and mitigation measures. Working on the group’s behalf, Goldsmith received $15,000 from the Cape Cod Commission to help defray the towns’ share of the study’s estimated $50,000 cost.
Cape towns have been getting inundated with sales pitches for technologies promising to detect sharks or keep the creatures away from beaches, and Goldsmith said she hopes the study will provide clarity about the prudent options.
Truro Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer noted that shark behavior is not “something that we’re ever going to control or change.” The key, she said, is increasing shark-safety awareness.