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"Plenty of shark food": Great whites return to Massachusetts waters, biting whales and seals

Great white shark bites seen on whales and seals in Massachusetts waters
Great white shark bites seen on whales and seals in Massachusetts waters 02:18

CHATHAM - Shark season is underway in Massachusetts. The New England Aquarium says great whites have taken a bite out of multiple marine mammals recently.

The aquarium is "urging the public to be aware of their surroundings" if they're headed for the ocean.

"With beach weather in the forecast and Memorial Day Weekend approaching, this is a good reminder for people to review shark safety guidelines and be shark smart,"  Massachusetts shark biologist John Chisholm said.

Chisholm, an adjunct scientist with the aquarium, spotted two white sharks on Wednesday. He shared a photo on X, formerly known as Twitter, of seals lining the beach of Monomoy Island off Chatham.

"Plenty of shark food on Monomoy today," Chisholm said. "These big haulouts usually start spreading out this time of year which is also when shark numbers start to increase."

Shark bite activity off Massachusetts

Chisholm photographed a seal in Plymouth with a fresh white shark bite in late April. And last week, a fishing charter company reported seeing a dead minke whale with a shark bite off Chatham.

A seal bit by a great white shark in Plymouth John Chisholm

The public is encouraged to report shark sightings through the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's Sharktivity app

Great white shark safety

Last year, a first-of-its-kind study found that Cape Cod is one of the world's largest white shark hotspots. The Conservancy says that between 2015 and 2018 there were an estimated 800 great white sharks in the waters around Massachusetts. Researchers say the shark population there peaks around late summer and into early fall when ocean temperatures are warmest. 

What attracts sharks to Cape Cod? Experts say it's food and there are an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 seals off the coast - the primary prey of the great whites.

"We're seeing seals occurring on these big sandy bathing beaches on the Cape. The sharks, they can smell the seal, the seals draw them in," Chisholm told WBZ-TV. They can smell the seals, the seals draw them in."

Sharks are definitely on the minds of some Massachusetts residents who are looking to hit the beach this summer.

"What is the likelihood of you getting attacked by a shark?" Boston resident Bronwin Crick wondered. "Your mind is always thinking about, 'what's underneath me?'"

Chisholm says beachgoers should be aware of sharks' presence in shallow waters, and stay away from seals or schools of fish if sighted. He also recommends that swimmers and surfers stay close to shore so emergency responders can reach them if needed.

"A lot of people have probably been in the water within few feet of a shark and not even known it," he said.

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