Last Wednesday, local SUP surfer Cleveland Bigelow was enjoying a casual session at Marconi Beach in picturesque Cape Cod. It’s something the 69-year-old had done countless times before, but unbeknownst to him, this was a session he’d never forget.
After catching a few waves, Bigelow was getting to his feet to paddle back out when he was suddenly blindsided.
"Didn't see it coming, didn't see it leaving," Bigelow told the Cape Cod Times. "It was like being on a motorcycle and getting hit by a truck. It was like boom. And then, oh."
After receiving a mouthful of foam and fiberglass, the juvenile shark disappeared in search of something a bit juicier. Meanwhile, Bigelow raced back to shore unscathed-minus a welt on his leg from the board hitting him-to warn others about his hair-raising encounter.
It has been a sharky summer for the popular East Coast summer destination.
Only two days prior, a great white mauled a seal in front of horrified beachgoers at Nauset Beach, located just a few miles south from Bigelow’s encounter. Both ordeals come on the heels of several sightings and beach closures that have kept surfers and paddlers on edge.
Local researchers suggest this is part of a new trend of juvenile white sharks heading north earlier in the year than normal. Normally, sharks spend the summer months hunting seals in Chatham-located 20 miles south of Marconi Beach-before relocating north to the more popular beaches of Cape Cod in early fall.
Though as Mr. Bigelow can attest, that migration pattern appears to be shifting earlier in the year.
The recent encounters have prompted knee-jerk reactions from some local politicians. This includes a proposal from Barnstable County Commissioner Ronald Beaty, Jr. to begin culling sharks by using baited lines suspended from buoys.
The theory behind the proposed culling plan? With less sharks in the water, the danger to ocean-goers will decrease.
That theory may or may not be correct, but regardless it fails to acknowledge that sharks play a critical role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem and diminishing or eliminating the natural population of an apex predator would have devastating impacts on the food chain and allow the populations of certain species to grow unchecked. Thankfully, both federal and state laws prohibit the hunting of great white sharks and should prevent this plan from coming to fruition.
As paddlers, we understand the risks of entering the water. While we’d be lying if we didn’t admit to sharks swimming through our minds from time to time, we understand they are just part of the deal. Despite the encounter, Bigelow has no plans to stop paddling and will continue sharing the ocean with the creature that gave him the jolt of a lifetime.