“Welcome to Chatham, summer home of the great white.”
Most people are familiar with Jaws, a classic film released in 1975 that takes place on the fictional island of Amity off the coast of Massachusetts. The iconic intro music by composer John Williams is easily recognizable, even if one hasn’t seen the film. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it is also considered to be the first summer blockbuster, setting a record by earning over one hundred million dollars in the box office. With world-wide popularity of Jaws came the decline of shark populations as people wanted to kill the monsters just as the “heroic” characters in the film had done. Shark fishing had skyrocketed in popularity.
For New Englanders who spend their summers on the Cape, this movie hits even closer to home since Jaws was filmed in the waters off the coast of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. The notable difference between the public response in the film versus the real community of Cape Cod is evident. Rather than widespread fear and panic, Chatham embraces their underwater neighbors, welcoming them every year in an almost celebrity-like fashion.
This beautiful town on Cape Cod is an inspirational example for other communities around the world that have observed sharks in their local waters. It was incredible to see the town’s positive response towards an animal people once loved to hate.
Rather than fearing sharks, the community is celebrating them. Walking downtown, children dance around the streets with shark shirts and stuffed shark toys. Local artists display paintings of sharks in the windows of shops and galleries. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (a nonprofit organization that partners with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to assist with funding for great white shark research) recently opened an education center with shark memorabilia, scientific galleries, and merchandise. Gift shops display souvenirs in their windows with slogans like “Respect the Locals."
The rest of the world needs to follow in Chatham’s footsteps, and respect wildlife in their natural environment. The great white sharks off of Cape Cod are only doing what they have evolved to do over the past four hundred million years. Other regions like Western Australia use drum lines to kill sharks and other innocent marine life that swim near beaches. Other places encourage shark culling, paying people (often government officials) to kill any shark in sight. It is a disastrous and beyond inefficient method of giving a false sense of hope that this is making public beaches safer.
In contrast, Cape Cod wildlife officials and marine scientists use non-invasive methods of keeping the beaches safe: spotter planes, satellite tags attached to the shark’s dorsal fin that can track their movements, and many signs and flags warning beachgoers of the potential of a white shark nearby. And in the rare occurrence that one is spotted, the town will close the beach until the water is safe again, out of respect for the wildlife that has every right to be there, even more so than humans.
Chatham is proof that people can peacefully coexist with wildlife, and that these animals deserve our respect and admiration rather than fear.
Respect the locals✌🏻
Written by @sharkdiver_kaitlyn