Cape Cod Sharks: What You Need to Know!

Cape Cod Sharks – A Must See If Possible

Cape Cod Sharks

Great White Shark

You’re on the Cape or Islands and you see a shark fin from the beach.  Cape Cod sharks evoke a sense of fear and fascination in people. Understandably, beachgoers are wary of going swimming when they spot a fin piercing through the water.

It’s both exciting and dangerous for people who are lucky enough to spot a shark.  On one hand, from the beach, you may get a glimpse of a majestic animal in its natural habitat; on the other hand, if you’re in the water, you’re at risk.

Research on these graceful and sometimes vicious sharks is done to better understand their movements along Cape Cod’s coastline and to improve safety.

Shark tagging is a method of keeping track of the shark population around the Cape and marking new sharks that appear each season.

Tagging Cape Cod Sharks

The great white shark is the species with the largest Cape Cod tagged population, with 55 new great whites tagged in 2014. Other species of sharks tagged include the tiger, mako and blue sharks, although tagging is done only during certain times of the year. Great white sharks are by far the most dangerous of these species.

Sharks typically are tagged with two different pieces of equipment, described by the Massachusetts Shark Research Program.

The first is an acoustic tag, which stays on the shark for up to five years and tracked by special receivers on the coastline.

The second is a data collector tag that comes off in less than a year.

The Massachusetts Shark Research Program says the only species of shark found year-round in Massachusetts waters is the porbeagle. Having evolved over the past 400 million years with over 360 recognized species, sharks are capable and adaptable predators.

Research Methods

Starting in 2014, the Massachusetts Shark Research Program will conduct a five year population study of Cape Cod sharks. The purpose of the study is to see where Cape Cod sharks may be breeding and possibly giving birth, study their movement patterns and track the shark population.

To help find sharks, a spotter plane assists researchers out on the water. Spotters identify sharks by the lateral lines on the gills where the grey turns to white, and receivers and buoys are used to track tagged sharks and gather information about their movement. These methods help determine whether a shark is showing site fidelity or residency in specific areas.


Sharks are spotted all around the coast of the Cape Cod peninsula. Shark movements range from Wellfleet, Orleans, Chatham, Buzzards Bay and off of Monomoy. South of the Chatham Harbor inlet is an area researchers have dubbed “Shark Cove,” as shark sightings are commonplace at this location.  Check out what type of sharks are in Cape Waters.

Feeding Habits

According to the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, fish, mollusks and crustaceans make up the main portion of a sharks diet. When compared to other fish, sharks grow slower, but can have life spans over 50 years.

Contrary to popular belief, sharks won’t eat just anything and are selective about their food. If you’re in the water, a shark is unlikely to target you. It’s more likely a shark may confuse you with the animals it typically consumes.

Cape Cod Shark Attacks

A great white shark off the coast of Truro bit a man in 2012, but this was the first shark attack in Cape Cod waters since 1938.

According to, dogs, bees, lightning and lions kill people more often every year than sharks do. Shark attacks are rare, but swimmers can never be too careful.

Safety Tips

Swimmers should be aware of their surroundings when swimming on the Cape. It is advisable to swim in groups, as swimming alone can isolate you. If you’re looking to avoid sharks, check out our infographic here!

Definitely avoid swimming and get to shore when seals are in the water; they are the primary food source for great white sharks and will attract a lot of unwanted attention.

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