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Cape Cod great white shark episode thankfully is minus 'Jaws' hysteria

September 8, 2009 | 10:18 am

A great white shark patrols waters off Cape Cod in 2004.

News item: Beaches around Chatham, Mass., remain closed because of shark sightings made in the Cape Cod area before the busy holiday weekend. Reports of the sightings and closures -- as well as the tagging by scientists of two great white sharks -- make national news.

Reaction: I might be naive in saying this, but the fact that very few of the reports tried to turn this into a real-life "Jaws" scare seems to indicate how far society has come in terms of appreciation toward the marine realm's most notorious and misunderstood predator.

Dangling like bait were the sharks themselves, the last busy summer holiday along the shore and small-town  politicians wrestling with how to deal with the situation. Among the most notable missing elements: a giant mechanical shark bent on killing humans, blood and holy terror and a savage shark hunter named Quint.

At least one media outlet took the bait. Contact Music, quick to grab the Steven Spielberg connection, posted a story with this lead paragraph:

"Swimmers have been warned to stay out of the water where STEVEN SPIELBERG's JAWS was filmed - after five nearby beaches in Massachusetts were closed due to great white shark sightings. The predatory fish were spotted in Cape Cod over America's Labour Day weekend, putting a damper on the final summer holiday and terrifying residents of nearby Martha's Vineyard, where Spielberg's 1975 horror film was shot."

A website called the Dorsal Fin devoted to reporting shark news "without the sensationalism," jumped all over this report, calling it poorly constructed (true) and baseless (also true), arguing there was no reported evidence of terrified residents (true again).

In fact, the situation seems to have been handled well, and there was no unjustified panic. That said, it was impossible for some locals not to think about "Jaws" during this episode, as shown below in a mildly entertaining video posted on YouTube by the Cape Cod Times. Enjoy:

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A great white shark patrols waters off Cape Cod in 2004. Credit: Massachusetts State Division of Marine Fisheries