Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory’s “State’s little white lie” addresses what the author appears to believe is an attempt by Massachusetts state officials to downplay concern over the presence of great white sharks in the Cape Cod area. McGrory likens an announcement from Ian Bowles, state secretary of environmental affairs, and Dr. Gregory Skomal of Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to the attempted cover-up of a shark attack by the fictional character, Mayor Vaughn, from the movie “Jaws.” The announcement from Bowles and Skomal informed the people of Massachusetts that there was nothing to fear from great white sharks in the area, when it comes to visiting Massachusetts beaches over the upcoming holiday weekend.
Clearly, McGrory does not agree with this statement, but he offers little in the way of any kind of scientific evidence as to why this announcement should be viewed with skepticism by the public, save for references to a Google search, regarding white shark births and information from Answers.com (which is a user-submitted wiki, often lacking any references) regarding the maternal nature of white sharks. The references to white shark births were included as a result of McGrory expressing concern over the young white shark that was tagged last week in Stellwagen Bank last week.
McGrory’s logic seems to be that if a young white shark is present in Massachusetts’ water, then there is potential for other white sharks, including the shark’s mother and possible siblings, to be in the same general area. While this line of thinking isn’t necessarily flawed, the idea that swimmers are at risk due to the sighting of a young white shark 20 miles off the coast could certainly be considered questionable.
McGrory’s piece is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek at times, but the overall message is that he believes beach-goers in Massachusetts are in danger if they go swimming. McGrory seems fairly convinced of this danger to the point that he calls into question the sincerity of Dr. Greg Skomal and his stance on the safety of swimmers. McGrory goes so far as to pick apart the semantics of Skomal’s voicemail message which states his is “in the field,” to which McGrory remarks that he prefers his shark expert to be “in the water.”
While there are always going to be risks involved with going to the beach (and doing just about anything else in life), the scientific evidence suggests that the risk of an attack by a great white shark is relatively negligible. Obviously, the presence of a relatively large number of white sharks which are known to be feeding in a particular area will increase the odds of an attack if people are swimming in that area. In that respect, McGrory’s concerns over the dangers of white sharks are not completely unfounded. However, last year when a large number of sightings of white sharks were reported near Chatham beaches, the government did, in fact, recognize the increased risk and closed the affected beaches.
McGrory’s story seems to promote the idea that officials such as Bowles and Skomal are being irresponsible by informing the public that the beaches are safe, but the same argument could be made toward McGrory for suggesting (albeit sarcastically) that the officials are being disingenuous toward the public. McGrory doesn’t offer much evidence to support the implied dangers that he is trying to alert the reader to. The article implies McGrory’s knowledge of white sharks is limited to what he has seen in the movie “Jaws” and to what he has Googled. On the other hand, Dr. Skomal has a background studying marine life, including great white sharks and was on-hand and “in the field” (aka on the water) last year during the tagging process of some of these white sharks. To McGrory’s credit, he does state toward the end of his column that he can only speak for himself. However, he then goes on to urge everyone to stick to the miniature golf course over the holiday weekend.
At the end of the day, we all have to make our own decisions about the risks we take. I’ll be heading to a North Carolina beach next week not far from where a bull shark attack occurred last week. I’m more worried about being on the road with drunk drivers over the holiday weekend than I am about swimming with sharks. As Mr. McGrory said, I can only speak for myself.