Possible great white shark sighting near Chatham, MA sparks the usual media hype

On August 15, two men kayaking off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts witnessed a shark attack on a seal. Bruce Bean and Rod MacKinnon, witnessed a bloody seal at the surface near their kayaks and a “a large black fin” nearby, according to a report at the The Boston Globe. White sharks are not unheard of in New England waters this time of year, and there is a large population of seals in the area where the men spotted the shark, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe that a great white shark could be in the area. Greg Skomal of the Division of Marine Fisheries was quoted as saying, "We think it’s a great white shark. There’s not many species of sharks in New England that would attack a seal. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon. It’s a natural event that’s been going on for a few years." Despite it being a “natural event” that’s not a “new phenomenon,” several news agencies picked up the story and added the typical "Jaws" references and sensational reporting. It should also be noted that while white sharks are known to migrate through New England waters, the last recorded fatal shark attack in New England occurred in 1936, according to The Boston Globe report.

Great white shark photo taken by George Probst
Great white sharks are known to migrate through New England waters this time of year.

The story at The Boston Globe was actually fairly objective and reported the basic facts of the sighting. The Boston Herald’s version of the story, on the other hand, steps the “fear factor” up a bit, starting their report off with, "Shark experts fear a great white is lurking off Chatham’s seal-rife seas." I find it hard to believe that “shark experts” would “fear” a great white’s presence in an area where white sharks are known to be present this time of year, especially in a spot where there is an abundant source of the white shark’s natural food source. And while the Herald’s story makes the statement about the shark expert’s “fear,” it is not backed up with any information from any “shark experts” expressing fear over the situation. In fact, Skomal is also quoted in the Herald’s report as simply stating that he believed the account of Bean and MacKinnon to be credible and that the carcass of the seal would help identify the shark involved. And, yes, this is the same Greg Skomal quoted in The Boston Globe story who expressed that a white shark attacking a seal was a natural event and nothing new.

WHDH 7 Boston’s video report (Note: I could only view this video properly using Internet Explorer) really hams up the "Jaws" angle in their version of the story. My favorite part of this one is the quote from one of the women interviewed, in which she says, "It’s like out of the Syfy Channel. You know, they have Shark Week and show all the horror pictures." The fact that people out there no longer make the distinction between Discovery Channel and science fiction is a tell-tale sign of what Shark Week has become, as of late. Also worth noting is the very familiar white shark image used in the background behind the anchors in the news studio during the lead-in to the story.

Last but not least, WBZTV CBS 38 features the photo of a mako shark to go along with their report on the possible white shark sighting. WBZTV also has a video report on the story, which amazingly manages to avoid any references to "Jaws".

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