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Shark attack on seal close to shore in Cape Cod prompts plan to kill sharks

The presence of great white sharks along Cape Cod beaches has risen in recent years, so when a shark attacked a seal only yards from shore and water-goers Monday, a local politician proposed a plan to kill sharks before they kill humans.

“From my viewpoint, based upon the sharp increase in shark-related attacks and incidents around Cape Cod in recent years, there is a clear and present danger to human life as a result of this growing problem,” Barnstable County Commissioner Ron Beaty said in a statement released by his office on Tuesday, as reported by Cape Cod Today.

Out of safety concerns, Beaty presented a localized shark hazard mitigation strategy similar to the one that's been used in Australia and South Africa.

“This proposal entails use of baited drum lines being deployed near popular beaches using hooks designed to catch great white sharks," Beaty continued.

"Large sharks found hooked but still alive are shot and their bodies discarded at sea. This is a targeted, localized, shark hazard mitigation strategy.”

Beaty elaborated on his explanation in an interview with the Boston Herald.

"This shark, that attack that got videotaped off Nauset, that was very close to shore and very easily could have been a small child and not a seal," Beaty said. "It's very easy for these sharks to mistake a person for a seal. They're just looking for something to eat. God forbid it's somebody's child, and by that time, it's too late. We can't wait for that."

The proposal is being met with a great deal of resistance. Beaty, seeking feedback from the public, is getting an earful.

Most of the commenters about the story on Cape Today denounced the plan, with one suggesting the use of nets to protect the popular beaches. Meanwhile, a Boston Herald Twitter poll reveals overwhelming support for leaving nature alone.

The strongest rebuke came from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in Cape Cod that tags sharks and supports great white shark research, education and conservation.

It said in a Facebook post Wednesday morning that the proposal is "ill-considered, indiscriminate, and will not influence beach safety."

The AWSC said killing white sharks to improve safety was tried in Western Australia without success, and the program was terminated after a review by the Australian Environmental Protection Authority, which found no evidence that culling sharks made beaches safer.

The conservancy said shark advisory signs, flags, videos and brochures from the Regional Shark Working Group provide beachgoers with information to improve public safety.

A similar plan has been used in Australia and South Africa. Photo: Courtesy of Travelbag.co.uk/Flickr

"The presence of white sharks off our coast is an indication of a healthy eco-system," the AWSC wrote. "The inshore waters off many Cape Cod and South Shore beaches are preferred feeding grounds for white sharks. They come to these areas to feed on a natural prey item—seals."

Greg Skomal, a state Division of Marine Fisheries biologist, has studied sharks for 30 years and is "wondering what the shark hazard is."

He told the Boston Herald that sharks feed on seals virtually every day, and that the last person in Massachusetts to be attacked was in 2012 on a swimmer off Truro. The last fatal attack in the state was in 1936.

"Between those years, I don't know of any white shark attacks," Skomal told the Herald.

Still, Beaty is pushing the idea of doing something before it's too late.

"If we react to a child or a person being killed or maimed for life, by then it'd be shame on us for not having at least thought of a strategy or tried to do something," he told the Herald.

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