Bourne Developing Plan to Handle Cape Cod Bay Shark Sightings

A sign warning beachgoers about shark activity in the area

BOURNE – The Town of Bourne is developing protocols to handle and disseminate information to the public regarding shark sightings in Cape Cod Bay.

Natural Resources Director Chris Southwood recently provided selectmen with an update on how the town plans to deal with unconfirmed and confirmed great white sightings, predations, and attacks.

The development of a town plan follows a sighting of a shark at Scusset Beach earlier this summer. After the incident, town officials realized that they were not getting proper notifications and not getting the information to the public.

“With the water temperatures and the amount of food in the water this is when we are going to see these sharks, and I don’t see it getting easier,” Southwood said. “So it is something we are definitely going to have to address.”

Southwood said this is the time to be proactive and focus on the direction the town will take when it comes to sightings.

“Public safety is our number one issue for the town, especially regarding our waterways,” he said.

Southwood said the plan includes temporarily closing beaches for an hour after unconfirmed or confirmed sightings.

“If it is confirmed, then addressing if closures need to be longer, and, if we can still find it, what direction it is going.”

Town officials would also notify neighboring communities to let them know if a confirmed shark is headed toward their beaches.

After the Scusset sighting, town officials also contacted the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“Now we are on their notification and they will be on ours,” Southwood said.

Protocol will be different for a predation on a seal. Southwood said Bourne will probably implement procedures used in many other towns and close the beach for the rest of the day.

“There’s food in the water, blood in the water and you need as much time as possible to flush that through and hopefully the shark will move through on its own,” Southwood said.

A shark attack would require “all hands on deck.”

“Whatever resources we have we are going to use,” Southwood said.

Sagamore Beach is unguarded and lacks the staff needed to implement some of the plans in place by other local communities.

The plan includes installing signage at Sagamore Beach. The signs would include information about where you are at the beach as there are four different entries. They would also provide a non-emergency number to contact Bourne Police.

Installing a flag system is also being discussed.

“It’s just another thing we might be able to do if someone gets on scene to raise a flag to at least warn people if they can see it,” Southwood said. “Right now even if the police responded first they don’t have manual bullhorns they can bring down to the beach.”

The town has also set up a plan with Sandwich to have them respond with a harbor patrol boat from the east end of the Cape Cod Canal. Bourne’s harbor boat is stationed at Monument Beach and would take at least 25 minutes to get to Sagamore Beach.

When staff arrives after a reported sighting they will gather information from the reporting party to determine if it is confirmed or not.

“If it is confirmed, we are on the Sharktivity app,” Southwood said.

The town can upload alerts to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy app that informs the public about the location of sightings and temporary beach closures.

The town is also focusing on education and providing useful information on social media, including the DNR Facebook page. Alerts about sightings and closures would also be posted on town social media outlets.

“We want to really make sure that people are aware of what’s out in the water,” Southwood said.

Over the winter, Southwood expects discussions on developing a plan for Buzzards Bay beaches.

“There are no other neighboring towns that are doing anything yet [in Buzzards Bay,]” Southwood said. “But I think it is unrealistic to think that these sharks aren’t in Buzzards Bay.”

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant grew up in Central Massachusetts and now lives in South Dennis on the Cape. He has been part of the news team in the NewsCenter since the spring of 2014. He studied radio broadcasting at the University of Tennessee.
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