A bin filled with plastic toy sharks are just some of the shark-related items for sale in a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass. With growing sightings of great white sharks off Cape Cod, local entrepreneurs are feeding the frenzy with their shark-themed memorabilia and apparel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Great white sharks are having an unusual effect on Cape Cod this summer, and many tourists are eager to chomp down on some shark-related goodies.
The sharks being spotted in growing numbers are stirring curiosity and a new sort of frenzy — a buying frenzy.
Shark T-shirts are everywhere, “Jaws” has been playing in local 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 binoculars in hopes of catching a glimpse of a shark fin from the beaches of Chatham. The resort town has a large population of gray seals — the massive animals whose blubber is the fuel of choice for great white sharks. Local shops sell jewelry, candy, clothes and stuffed animals with shark motifs.
Shark lovers: “(Great) White sharks are this iconic species in society and it draws amazing amounts of attention,” said Gregory Skomal, a senior marine fisheries biologist who also leads the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, who said people are coming in hopes of witnessing the animals in their splendor. “I have not been approached by anyone who has said to me ‘let’s go kill these sharks.’”
Skomal said sharks have been coming closer to shore to feed on the seals, which he said have been coming on shore in greater numbers because of successful conservation efforts.
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.
Kids: Laurie Moss McCandless of Memphis, Tennessee, has vacationed on Cape Cod every summer since she was a little girl and doesn’t remember hearing about sharks back then. But her son is obsessed with sharks, she said, and she’s hoping to hear more about them on their vacation in Chatham.
“He loves all his sharks paraphernalia,” McCandless, 39, said as she bought a shark-themed sweatshirt for one of her three children.
Reported by RODRIQUE NGOWI of the Associated Press from CHATHAM, Mass. Follow Rodrique Ngowi at www.twitter.com/ngowi
Cape Cod Tourism: http://www.capecodchamber.org/
Massachusetts Shark Research Program: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dmf/programs-and-projects/shark-research.html
Atlantic White Shark Conservancy: http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/
An eye glass holder in the shape of a shark rests on a shelf in a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass. With growing sightings of great white sharks off Cape Cod, local entrepreneurs are feeding the frenzy with their shark-themed memorabilia and apparel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)