Frothy waves rolled onto the sand. The warm September sun, high in the sky, beat down on the dark blue ocean water. It was a perfect beach day. A final summer heat wave as September came to call an end to the season. It could have been a scene from a Cape Cod post card, except for one thing. The beach goers, clad in their brightly colored bathing suits, stood lined along the shore, all of their eyes trained on a single boat. A sense of excitement hovered in the humid air. The water was empty.
Except for the shark. They couldn’t see her, but they knew she was there. They knew because the small plane was circling overhead, and the boat, which only seconds before, had been hurdling through the water, was now still, as if it always had been. A man stood on the boat’s metal pulpit, suspended out over the cold Atlantic water, a GoPro stick in one hand, the other tightly gripping the railing, ready for the boat to lurch back into motion without warning.
“We’re following a white shark,” he said to a man who had stepped forward, like an ambassador for the curious crowd. The boat was close enough to shore that he didn’t event have to yell to be heard. His name is Dr. Greg Skomal. He’s a marine biologist, and he’s famous around these parts, famous because he’s studying the White Sharks.
If the movie Jaws, was any indication as to how Massachusetts residents would react to the presence of white sharks in their waters, one would expect unmanageable fear and panic to permeate the summer air, yet in reality, the people here are excited. Dr. Skomal has become a celebrity. The circling plane and the boat, which signal the presence of a white shark in the water, and lead to the temporary closing of the Cape’s beaches on hot summer days, seem to be a source of wonder, not a cause for contempt.
These people, lined along the shore, scanning the water, watching the boat, waiting for a glimpse, these people are a part of something big. White sharks have always been a source of fascination. Hollywood has painted them as monsters to be feared. But people have always had a love for the creatures that they don’t understand, for the wild that they cannot tame, for the “monsters” that scare them. And now the sharks are here. A normal day on the beach, on a Wednesday in September, can turn into an episode of “Shark Week”. Life as we know it on Cape Cod is changing.
With a roar of the motors, the boat thrusts forward. People run along the shore, following it. The boat turns, stops, thrusts forward again, and stops, in 7 feet of water, just past the break point of the waves. A shadow moves towards the pulpit, invisible to the people on the beach. Dr. Skomal pushes the GoPro stick into the water, moving it back and forth. He pulls the camera out of the water, and the boat is moving again, gunning forward, then just as suddenly, it stops once more, and the camera goes back into the green ocean.
A few swipes, and Dr. Skomal brings the camera out of the water. As abruptly as it first appeared, the research boat takes off, following the small plane in the sky. Dr. Skomal, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, are off in pursuit of another white shark.