Just 20 years ago, great white shark sightings were so rare in the North Atlantic that they were declared "vulnerable" and given protected status by the U.S. government. Now they are seen so often, and so close to shore, they are drawing a public outcry, particularly on Cape Cod. Bill Whitaker reports on the great white controversy for the 52nd season premiere of "60 Minutes" on Sunday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT on CBS.
It's true there are many more great whites now say scientists who study them. Whitaker saw them not much more than 10 feet off a Cape Cod beach with Dr. Greg Skomal, chief shark scientist for the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries. Nearby were the reasons for the sharks coming so close to shore: hundreds of lounging, federally protected gray seals, the favorite meal of great whites. "This is the restaurant here. These sharks have found the restaurant, and they're waiting for the doors to open," quips Skomal.
What's also true is that the chances of one attacking a human remain infinitesimal. Shark attacks are extremely rare, but last September, Arthur Medici was killed by a great white while swimming off a Cape Cod beach. His was the first death by shark on the cape since 1936. It still set off a chain of fear reminiscent of that caused by the number-one film of 1975, "Jaws." It's a fear built into humans, says Skomal. "I think that fear is primal. It's innate ... it's in all of us."
Chris Fischer, who founded Ocearch, an organization that monitors the oceans and tags and tracks white sharks, thinks educating the public is the key: "We've basically got to undo everything "Jaws" did. I mean, we've got half the people on the eastern seaboard terrified about something that almost never happens."
for more features.