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Great White Sharks on Cape Cod: Where They Live and How Often They're Spotted

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key point

  • Cape Cod is a favorite hunting ground for the great white shark, one of the most dangerous shark species in the world.
  • Cape Town is known to have one of the highest shark populations in the country.
  • The spike in Cape Cod great white shark sightings may be because humans are getting better at spotting them.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts is one of the best summer destinations for tourists visiting the different beaches on the peninsula. However, it is also a favorite hunting ground for one of the most dangerous shark species in the world – the great white shark. If the Cape Cod shark is an incredible concept, read on for the details.

In 1997, the state restricted recreational and commercial fishing of the top predator. Since then, great white shark populations have been steadily increasing. Cape Cod is known to have one of the highest shark populations in the country.

In fact, the peninsula is the runner-up for the Shark Attack Capital of the World. Over the past few years, this has happened even more. But just how dangerous are these Cape Cod sharks? How often are they found and where are you likely to encounter them?

Here's what to know about the great white shark on Cape Cod.

Newcomb Hollow Beach
The state of Massachusetts designated great white sharks as a protected species in 2005.


Why are there so many great white sharks on Cape Cod?

Great white sharks are doubly protected in Massachusetts. In addition to gaining federal protection in 1997, Massachusetts designated the great white shark as a protected species in 2005. When you combine this with the recent surge in seal populations, it's easy to see why great whites have suddenly become a fairly common species, the Cape Cod shark.

Cape Cod Great White Shark: A 1,400-pound great white shark named Bob was tracked off Cold Bay on Cape Cod. Bob is just one of many characters in the area. Every year from July to October, many great white sharks are spotted in the area and their numbers are increasing. Biologists believe the sharks were drawn to the area because of the abundant food sources found there as well.

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chilled beach
Cold Storage Beach on Cape Cod Bay

©iStock.com/Douglas Rissing

The bounty program that nearly wiped out the seal population in the region ended in the 1960s. This was followed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The legislation allows the seal population to recover and recolonize the area. According to recent estimates, there are an estimated 50,000 seals on the cape. Sharks are naturally attracted to areas with high seal populations, so for sharks, the Cape Cod area becomes one of their preferred hunting grounds.

Great white shark sightings on Cape Cod have increased over the past few years. Experts believe the increase in sightings may not be because their numbers are increasing. According to experts, these sharks have lived in the area for a long time. The spike in Cape Cod great white shark sightings may be because humans are getting better at spotting them.

Shark Bite - Great White
The last fatal great white attack was on a boogie boarder on Newcomb Hollow Beach in 2018.

©Alessandro De Maddalena/Shutterstock.com

How often are they found?

We can attribute the increase in great white shark sightings on Cape Cod to advances in shark tracking technology. However, it cannot be denied that there have been more attacks and sightings in the past few years. The number of shark detections has increased every year since 2013, with detections in 2021 alone increasing by 24 percent, according to the Boston Globe of the Atlantic White Shark Conservation Society.

There was one Cape Cod shark attack in 2017 involving paddle boarders near Marconi Beach. Attacks on swimmers were also recorded in 2012. But these were not fatal attacks.

Marconi Beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
In 2017, a paddle surfer was attacked by a great white shark off Marconi Beach. The incident was not fatal.

©iStock.com/Cheri Alguire

The 2018 fatal attack on a surfer at Newcomb Hollow Beach was the latest fatal great white shark attack in Massachusetts. Before that, the last time anyone in the state died from a shark bite (it was a bull shark, not a great white) was in 1936.

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Recently, there have been more great white shark sightings than actual shark attacks. There have been several incidents of great white sharks harassing kayaks, videos of them feeding on seals miles offshore, and sightings reported through the newly launched Sharktivity app.

The first notable event of the year was the sighting of an 11-foot great white off Chatham Harbor on July 11. The shark was previously identified by conservationists as Luke. It has been seen swimming near beaches in the Gulf of Maine. Two days later, two other previously identified sharks, Granese and Kendal, were spotted off Nauset Beach.

It should be noted that great white sharks are considered to be very intelligent hunters and if they happen to attack, they can get confused. For example, the underside of a surfboard might look like the underbelly of a seal. This prompts the shark to attack without realizing who's on top! Additionally, great white sharks are known for their ambush hunting style, which allows them to approach from underwater, which can increase confusion between humans and seals.

great white shark
Most great white shark sightings on Cape Cod occur on the Outer Cape beaches.

©Ramon Carretero/Shutterstock.com

where do they live

Sharks live on all beaches on the Cape Cod Peninsula. However, most of the great white sharks on Cape Cod are seen on the beaches of the Outer Cape. This includes the area stretching from Monomoy Island in Chatham to Nauset Beach in Orleans, Eastham, Truro, Wellfleet and Provincetown.

It is uncertain where the great white shark's home can be found. The only area on Cape Cod where you are less likely to encounter these predators is the pond.

You're also less likely to encounter them on the beaches on the bay side and south side of the cape. That's not to say there aren't sharks in these places. Cape Cod great white sharks are rare there, but the fact that the sharks can travel great distances in search of seals means that there really aren't any beaches on Cape Cod that can be considered completely free of sharks.

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Basically, if there are a lot of seals near any beach, the number of sharks there is likely to increase. Due to the recent abundance of seals, especially in the outer Cape Cod area, this means that the risk of encountering great white sharks is quite high.

Porbeagle caught on a fisherman's line.
Porbeagle caught on a fisherman's line.

Great whites and most other Cape Cod shark species that can be seen in Massachusetts migrate to the area only seasonally. Only one animal, the porbeagle, lives on Cape Cod year-round. Other animals, including great white sharks, are usually seen during the warmest months of the year (usually May to November). However, as this is a time of increased tourist activity in the area, the risk of sighting and encountering them is very high,

in conclusion

Great white shark attacks on humans are rare. Still, efforts are being made to keep people on Cape Cod beaches safer. Experts are stepping up efforts to tag as many of these sharks as possible. Lifeguards on the beach will also alert people if they are sighted. The Sharktivity app has also proven to be an effective way to report and document great white shark sightings.


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about the author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-notch content writer who can write about just about anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and hopes to own one someday.

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  1. CBS News, available here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cape-cod-shark-sightings-11-great-white-sharks-spotted-ahead-of-july-4th-holiday/
  2. New York Post, available here: https://nypost.com/2022/07/13/4-great-white-sharks-spotted-in-two-days-off-cape-cod/
  3. Cape Beach Dog, available here: https://capebeachdog.com/great-white-sharks-on-cape-cod
  4. CNN edition, available here: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/03/us/sharks-cape-cod-trnd/index.html