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Great white shark ecotourism off Cape Cod is a growing concern

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By David Strege,  BNQT

With a burgeoning seal population, the Cape Cod region attracts hundreds of great white sharks each summer, in turn drawing tourists interested in catching a close-up glimpse of these apex predators.

Consequently, Cape waters have become a great white shark ecotourism destination with boats offering tours to view the largest predatory fish in the world.

[post_ads]But with great white sharks becoming a "booming business," there is a growing concern by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy that too many tour boats could alter the behavior of the sharks and have implications for the species as well as for public safety, as reported by the Cape Cod Times.

So Atlantic White Shark Conservancy president Cynthia Wigren is calling for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to consider regulating eco-tour businesses before there is an explosion of boats and spotter planes.

"In South Africa … it's a huge industry, centered around white sharks," said Michelle Wcisel, a zoologist and behavioral ecologist at the conservancy, speaking Wednesday at a regional shark working group in Orleans Town Hall.

"Once the population estimate [from state shark scientist Greg Skomal's population study] comes out, you will have many people coming down here to do it. It's a multi-multi-million dollar business in South Africa."

The conservancy suggested ecotourism regulations similar to those used in the South Africa cage-diving industry. The ultimate hope is that the DMF will develop new rules governing a new industry. Some suggested regulations include establishing permits and limiting the number of permitted vessels to three.

"It's already a business, hiring a pilot and finding sharks," Wigren told the group, according to the Times.

Even the conservancy does it. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy partnered with Chatham Bars Inn to sell seats on a boat that shadows its research vessel that tags great white sharks. Hotel guests pay $2,500 per person with the money going to research.

But Wcisel has identified at least five companies online offering tours to see great white sharks.

Chatham Fishing Charters is one. The website states, "If you'd like to go on a 'camera only shark hunt,' you've come to the right place. We work with professional spotter pilot George Breen and have the ability to communicate live and privately with the plane to put us right on the sharks."

However, Rob Wissmann, owner/operator of Blue Claw Boat Tours, which run seal and harbor cruises, told the Cape Cod Times that there shouldn't be a restriction on the number of boats, saying responsible captains would not spook sharks any more than shark tagging, which the AWSC does.

"I don't think the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy should have a corner on the market," he told the Times. "This is a resource that's not different from snowy owls and seals.
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"There's so many sharks out there. We see them in the harbor, and on occasion in the inlets…

"We bring tourism to the Lower Cape. When you have an ecotourism boat that wants to go out, I think they should let the guy do it. It brings a lot of money into the economy. It's a great chance to bring millions [of dollars] to the Cape and educate people."

Top photo used with permission from © Wayne Davis and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. The generic great white shark photo is from Wikipedia Commons. Shark-tagging photo used with permission of © Wayne Davis and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

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