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Shark & Beach Safety on Cape Cod

Visitors and residents come to the Cape Cod National Seashore to enjoy its abundant recreational opportunities, and for rest and rejuvenation.

Cape Cod National Seashore Superintendent Brian Carlstrom reminds people that we share the national seashore with native wildlife. Recently, Cape Cod's great white sharks and gray seals have gained local and national attention. Both species existed long before Cape Cod was settled or became a popular destination, and in recent years their numbers have increased. Sharks have existed for more than 400 million years.  As top predators, sharks are critical for maintaining a healthy and balanced marine ecosystem.

Seals are the major prey species for the great white shark, and as the seal population increases, the great white sharks have become more numerous. On Cape Cod, we are experiencing an increasingly active shark population, which is a relatively new phenomenon for our region, requiring us to learn best practices to in order to keep humans educated and safe. 

To stay safe and to protect wildlife:

  • Do not swim near seals.
  • Swim close to shore, where your feet can touch the bottom.
  • Swim, paddle, kayak, and surf in groups.
  • Do not swim alone in the ocean at dawn or dusk. Avoid isolation.
  • Limit splashing and do not wear shiny jewelry.
  • Follow instructions of lifeguards.
  • Become familiar with the beach flag warning system. Take time to read signage at the beaches.
  • Avoid murky or low-visibility water, which makes it difficult to see sharks and for sharks to see you.
  • Wearing a wet suit may give the appearance of a seal, unless it is highly and colorfully patterned.

The Cape Cod National Seashore, the towns of Cape Cod and the Islands, the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy have worked together to produce shark advisory signs for beaches, and brochures that provide education and safety tips for beach users.

Here are other beach and swimming safety tips from the Cape Cod National Seashore:

  • Be alert for rip tides, shore break, and strong undertows.
  • Never turn your back to the ocean.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Wear sun protection.
  • Glass containers are prohibited on all life-guarded beaches when a lifeguard is on duty.
  • Rafts, rubber tubes, and masks and snorkels are prohibited on life-guarded beaches.
  • Sand collapses easily. Climbing slopes and dunes, and digging holes deeper than knee level are prohibited.If there is an emergency, get a lifeguard or dial 911.

If Caught in a Rip Current:

  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don't fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not on duty call 911.

Click here to watch a video aimed at helping people and white sharks co-exist peacefully, which was developed in collaboration with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and officials from Cape Cod and South Shore towns.