Sargent's view: Sharks, seals and living on the beach

Hans Morris photoA great white shark

Toward the afternoon of July 6, two young men climbed to the top of Sandy Point’s highest dune and filmed each other leaping off.

In the process, they dislodged a giant clump of dune grass, reducing the height of the dune by almost a foot.

I couldn’t get too annoyed. I had done the same thing as a kid. Humans seem to have an innate urge to manipulate their environment.

Up the beach, a seal was trying to find a place between the boats to come ashore, but a group of young children kept rushing at him, swimming up to their necks in the water.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized what I had witnessed. The seal had seemed nervous and overly eager to find a place to come ashore. I also learned that lifeguards had made room for another seal intent on coming ashore on nearby Crane Beach.

That night, I read that there had been over 40 sightings of sharks over the past week on Cape Cod. Someone had used a drone to film two sharks biting each other in shallow water less than 30 feet from the beach. The equivalent of foreplay in the world of great white sharks, I suppose.

This could mean that the nursery ground for great whites could be expanding north from Long Island Sound. There had also been credible sightings of these sharks off Manchester and Plum Island. 

Suddenly, the incident with the kids didn’t seem so innocent. They, and the seal, had been swimming in the sharks’ environment. 

Just offshore, we have an ecosystem that is as wild and natural as anything in Africa. At any minute, a great white shark could hurtle out of the depths and pull a seal or young swimmer under the surface.

At a time when millions of species are expected to go extinct, the presence of seals and sharks represent two successful conservation strategies, returning the ocean to the wild and natural place it should be. 

People pay thousands of dollars to fly to Africa to see vast herds of prey and predators while we now have the equivalent just offshore. We can and should be in awe of their presence, but we will have to change our swimming behavior because sharks sure aren’t going to change theirs.

It behooves us to heed the same lesson on the beach. The ocean is not going to change its behavior so we can live on the beach. We are building houses in the ocean’s environment and at any moment she can take them back.

It is up to us to change our behavior, not the ocean, or sharks, to change theirs. 

Bill Sargent is a North Shore science writer and contributing columnist. His most recent book, "Coastal Discoveries," is available in local bookstores and through http://plumislandoutdoors.org and www.ingramcontent.com.

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