Sharks take bite out of tourists' wallets
Great white sharks are having an unusual effect on Cape Cod this summer. The sharks are being spotted in growing numbers and have stirred curiosity and a buying frenzy for shark-related merchandise.
Shark T-shirts are everywhere. "Jaws" has been playing in movie theaters and boats are taking more tourists out to see the huge seal population that keeps the sharks coming. Harbormasters have issued warnings but unlike the sharks in the movies the great whites generally are not seen as a threat to human swimmers.
Among the entrepreneurs is Justin Labdon, owner of the Cape Cod Beach Chair Company, who started selling "Chatham Whites" T-shirts after customers who were renting paddle boards and kayaks began asking whether it was safe to go to sea.
"I mean, truthfully, we've probably grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel," he said. The T-shirts, hoodies, hats, belts, dog collars and other accessories bear the iconic, torpedo-shaped image of great whites and sell for between $10 and $45.
He said his store brings in thousands of dollars in sales of the shark-themed merchandise.
Tourists peer through coin-operated binoculars in hopes of catching a glimpse of a shark fin from the beaches of Chatham. The resort town is on the elbow of the cape that has a large population of gray seals the massive animals whose blubber is the fuel of choice for great white sharks. Shops sell jewelry, candy, clothes, stuffed animals and beverages with shark motifs.
A study released last month by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found the number of great white sharks off the Eastern U.S. and Canada is surging after decades of decline. Conservation efforts and the greater availability of prey such as Massachusetts' seals are credited with the reversal.
Shark sightings have soared from generally fewer than two annually before 2004 to more than 20 in each of the last few years off Cape Cod, where the economy depends heavily on the summer tourism season. Despite notices urging boaters and swimmers to use caution, the official reaction has been nearly the opposite of the panic depicted in "Jaws," the 1975 film shot mainly on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.
Confrontations with people are rare, with only 106 unprovoked white shark attacks 13 of them fatal in U.S. waters since 1916, according to data provided by the University of Florida.
Still, officials are wary of the damage that could be done to tourism if one of the predators bites a person. Brochures have been distributed to raise awareness of sharks and safe practices in the event of a sighting.
Critical thinking challenge: Whats the difference between a spending frenzy and a feeding frenzy?