Sunday, September 6, 2009 -
CHATHAM - Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ...
Swimming has been prohibited at all Atlantic beaches in this picturesque Cape town for the remainder of Labor Day weekend after several great white sharks were seen off the coast, Harbor Master Stuart Smith said yesterday.
Gregory Skomal, a senior biologist and shark expert with the state Division of Marine Fisheries, spotted the beasts off Monomoy Island, in the seal-rich waters where big sharks have been seen for three days. That prompted officials at North, Lighthouse, South and Harding beaches in Chatham and Nauset Beach in Orleans to raise the red “no swimming” signs, much to the disappointment of beachgoers trying to enjoy the last big weekend of summer.
Local and state officials plan to meet Tuesday to determine whether the beaches are safe to reopen, Smith said.
But from a scientific standpoint, Skomal said, it was a blockbuster day.
Using a spotter plane and a boat, Skomal and his crew harpooned electronic tags onto two of the great white sharks, which were 8 and 10 feet long.
The tags will collect data every 10 minutes on the sharks’ locations, the temperature of the water and the ambient light, and store that information until Jan. 15, when the tag is programmed to detach, pop to the surface and relay the migration information to a satellite.
“From a scientific perspective, it’s fantastic,” Skomal said. Yesterday marks only the second and third times a great white has been successfully tagged in the Atlantic Ocean.
But the presence of the creatures took a bite out of the vacation plans of thousands of woebegone beachgoers.
As hundreds of people crowded the hot, dry sand in Chatham, longtime summer resident Richard Baumann went for a dip - before realizing swimming had been prohibited.
“I didn’t understand why I was the only one swimming,” Baumann said after beach officials demanded he exit the water. “I just wanted 10 more minutes because this is the warmest the water has been all summer.”
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