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SHARK! Forget 'Jaws' Fears—People Love Sharks

Sunday, 15 Jul 2012 | 11:39 AM ET

Yell shark and most people will run, right?

Shark bite t-shirt
Source: Chatamtco.com
Shark bite t-shirt

Actually, that is true. But what you probably don’t know is that many are running TOWARD the water instead of away from it! Seriously, people love sharks.

The picture that went around the world last week of that kayaker with the ominous fin of a shark right behind him as he paddled furiously hasn’t made people flee the town of Chatham in Cape Cod, where the photo was taken. Quite the opposite.

“It brings more people to the Cape,” said Keith Lincoln, the captain and owner of the Monomoy Island Ferry-Rip Ryder in Chatham. “Everybody’s coming down here trying to get a glimpse of the shark!”

The Chatham Lighthouse overlook, a popular sightseeing spot, has been packed with people from early morning until late in the evening, Lincoln said. It’s so packed, it’s even hard to get a parking spot. The last two years have been among the busiest for rentals in Chatham — the buzz around town is that they’re running out of rentals because the rooms are all booked, Lincoln said.

And many tourists visiting other towns on Cape Cod are also driving down to Chatham, which is right at the elbow of the Cape, hoping to see a shark.

Lincoln said his boat tours, which include seal-watching cruises (seals are a favorite meal for many sharks), are booked several days in advance and the big question everyone’s asking is, “Are we gonna see a shark?”

Paula St. Pierre, the owner of Beachcomber Boat Tours, said she probably gets about 50 calls and inquiries a day asking about sharks. Before the sharks started showing up in the past few years, she used to get that question about 20 times for the whole summer.

And, despite all the “Shark Sighting Spurs ‘Jaws’ Fears” headlines, St. Pierre said she hasn’t gotten a single cancellation for a boat tour based on shark fears. She has, however, gotten some silly questions.

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“I had a woman ask: I have a baby. What happens if the baby falls off the boat?!” St. Pierre said incredulously.

People also want to know, “’What time do the sharks feed at?’” she said, adding that it’s not like a zoo — there are no set times. In fact, sharks may take a couple weeks to digest after a big meal.

“And sharks don’t have a GPS, so it’s not like we can track them and know when they come in to feed!” St. Pierre said.

Shark sightings aren’t as common as many people think. Lincoln said every year they see at least one on their boat tours. Last year, they spotted four — this year, despite shark spottings in the water, they haven’t seen any on their boat tours.

“You’d be better off buying a lottery ticket!” St. Pierre quipped.

Still, that hasn’t stopped people from trying.

Sharks are always a big draw as soon as that first media report of a shark sighting goes out, but it’s been especially helpful that this shark sighting happened so early in the season, Lincoln said.

“It draws a lot of people into town. It’s helping local businesses and boosting the economy,” Lincoln said. “The top two questions we get after seal cruises are where’s downtown Chatham and where are the best restaurants.”

St. Pierre said the weather really has the most to do with how good business is but the shark sightings don’t hurt either. She estimates her business is up about 20 percent from last year.

“Sure, the whole shark thing has been a bonus,” St. Pierre said.

Not only are people heading out to sea on boat cruises to satiate their shark mania, they’re also gobbling up any shark-related souvenirs they can find in town.

“People always ask us if we sell shark T-shirts," Lincoln said. "I send them downtown to all the stores.”

One of the bestsellers at the Chatham T Companyon Main Street in Chatham is a long-sleeved T-shirt that says “Shark Bite” down the arm and has a graphic of wide-open shark jaws on the back. They also have one that says, “That’s a wicked big shahk!,” poking fun at the Boston accent.

Jay Case, the owner of Larry’s PX(as in Post Exchange) Restaurant in West Chatham, said the shark gear he sells at the restaurant is in high demand.

“Anything you have with a shark on it sells!” he said.

He’s got shark-teeth necklaces, shark bracelets, shark candy — even gummy shark candy.

“All that stuff sells,” he said, adding that he’s seen a little bit of a pickup in sales of shark gear since the sighting last week. He’s also noticed an increase in boaters out on the water — everyone wants to get that money shot to bring home with them as a souvenir — or maybe to have it go viral on the Internet like that kayaker photo.

Incidentally, the state’s shark expert, Dr. Greg Skomal, determined that the shark in that photo, where the kayaker was paddling feverishly to get away, probably wasn’t a great white — or even a man-eating, carnivorous shark. Based on the shape of the fin and where it was swimming in the water, it was most likely a basking shark, which eats plankton — not people. They can grow pretty big — up to 33-feet long, and they swim with their mouth wide open, which seems like it’s to eat you, but rather, it’s to catch all the plankton.

“Lucky for him — he looked like a good meal!” Case joked.

Of course, it’s hard to go shark watching and NOT think about the movie “Jaws.”

“We get, ‘You’re going to need a bigger boat, Brody’ all the time!” St. Pierre said.

“I always tell them: ‘Don’t worry, the boat is big enough,’” Lincoln said. “And I tell the kids, ‘Don’t worry, they only eat boats in the movies!’”

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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