Last month, state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and other Cape Cod lawmakers succeeded in getting nearly $400,000 in state funding for towns struggling to pay for communications, educational material, and emergency response equipment in the wake of the state’s first fatal shark attack in more than 80 years.
This week, Peake was able to get an amendment to the 2020 state budget to fund an additional $150,000 for shark research, and is working with state Reps. William Crocker, R-Centerville, and Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, on a request for $250,000 to pay for a shark information network to educate visitors and residents.
“This is a serious, serious issue from a public safety and economic perspective,” said Peake.
There were two shark attacks on people at Cape beaches last year, including the death of a Revere man who was bitten Sept. 15 at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet.
Peake filed two amendments in the budget for energy and the environmental affairs. One asks for $75,000 to support tagging great white sharks in Cape Cod Bay. Since he first started tagging great whites in 2009, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries lead shark scientist Gregory Skomal has focused on the Atlantic side of the Cape, with more than 150 sharks fitted with various kinds of devices that either broadcast a signal to a listening device on a buoy or track and share the shark’s position and environmental conditions via satellite with researchers on shore.
But receivers in Cape Cod Bay and anecdotal information from fishermen indicate great white sharks are also there, and Skomal wants to do at least 10 tagging trips in the bay this summer. Skomal also wants to study great white shark behavior by looking at how they use the bottom to move from offshore to inshore areas and to hunt seals by tracking their movements through a grid of listening buoys, and combining that information with environmental and bottom contour studies. The other amendment for $75,000 is to help fund bottom contour mapping by the Center for Coastal Studies.
The House has not yet taken up the other amendment Peake, Crocker and Hunt were working on to add $250,000 to the labor and economic development budget, she said. That money would help pay for the Shark Information Network, which grew out of meetings spearheaded by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, and would include the development of a communications campaign.
“We want to develop a proactive public relations campaign promoting the Cape as a complete vacation destination,” said chamber CEO Wendy Northcross.
The chamber would use social media and hire spokespeople. And there would be training for frontline staff in industries such as real estate and hospitality on how to answer shark-related questions. Northcross said she hopes to produce a video for visitors and do market research into how consumers react to vacations in a location with apex predators. Officials also hope to have neighborhood meetings to hear public concerns, she said.
“Communications go both ways,” said Northcross.
The state money probably will not come until September at the earliest, but Northcross has been fundraising to get things started in time for the summer, she said.