Cape Cod Study Finds Many Support Human Coexistence With Sharks, Seals

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CAPE COD, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — A new social science study reveals that most Cape Cod tourists, voters, and fishers are willing to accommodate local marine wildlife, even at the cost of lost real estate.

Funding from the Woods Hole Sea Grant enabled a team, that included members from Salem State University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Tufts University, to conduct a survey last summer among Cape Cod residents, tourists, and workers about their views on sharks and seals.

The year-long study named "Human Dimensions of Rebounding Populations of Seals and White Sharks on Cape Cod, MA" provides insight into how officials can advance marine conservation, promote personal responsibility for supervising, and foster coexistence in relation to local sharks and seals. According to their findings, 94 percent of tourists, 86 percent of voters, and 66 percent of fishers would be willing to accept some inconvenience when it comes to making room for sharks and seals to rebound their populations.

“This is one of the few studies to give voice to multiple stakeholders in the marine environment and to examine their views of both seals and great white sharks,” said Salem State University's Professor and Principal Investigator of the study Jennifer Jackman, "as notable as some differences in perceptions are, our findings also reveal shared commitments among stakeholders to coexistence with marine wildlife and ecosystem health."

For all participants, a majority believe the ecosystem is a top management priority, think they have control over whether or not they encounter sharks, and have seen people coming too close to wild seals.

Other findings, officials say, show that both visitors and residents want to be positive impacts to seals' marine ecosystems and believe sharks have "aesthetic, ecological, and economic benefits." With sharks, only a minority of survey takers think that bites on humans are intentional.

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Team members from Center for Animals and Public Policy, Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance had members that facilitated the study, with the later emphasizing the importance of including commercial fishers' voices in the findings.

"Fishermen’s opinions come from a place of direct experience and intimate knowledge of the ocean, so it was critical that they be included in this public perception survey of seals and sharks,” said Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer of the Fishermen’s Alliance.

The study found that commercial fishermen see seals in more of a negative light than do with sharks, as they tend to attribute the mammals for reducing and suppressing the fish stocks, hurting the economy, and creating public safety risks by attracting sharks to the area.

Sanderson said that the Fishermen's Alliance has been advocating for non-lethal seal deterrent options, something that voters and tourists agree should be utilized.

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