Great White Sharks in Cape Cod: Where They Live and How Often They’re Spotted

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde
Published: August 12, 2022
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Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is one of the top summer destinations for tourists visiting the different beaches on the peninsula. However, it is also the favorite hunting ground of one of the most dangerous shark species in the world, the great white shark. In 1997, the country restricted the recreational and commercial fishing of great white sharks. Since then, the shark population has been on a steady increase. The population of great white sharks in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is one of the highest in the country. 

In fact, the peninsula is a close runner-up for the shark attack capital of the world. There have been more sightings of this over the past few years. But how much of a danger are these sharks? How often are they spotted, and where will you likely encounter them? Here are a few things to know about great white sharks in Cape Cod. 

The Marconi Beach in Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
In 2017, a paddleboarder was attacked by a great white shark on Marconi Beach. The incident was not fatal. Alguire

Why Are There So Many Great White Sharks on Cape Cod?

Great shark whites have double protection in Massachusetts. In addition to receiving federal protection in 1997, Massachusetts also designated the great white sharks as a protected species in 2005. When you combine this with the recent boom in the seal population, it’s easy to see why great whites are suddenly becoming quite common on Cape Cod. 

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The bounty program, which almost drove the seal population in the region to extinction, ended in the 1960s. Following this, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted in 1972. This legislation has allowed the seal population to recover and recolonize the area. According to recent estimates, there are an estimated 50,000 seals on the cape. Naturally, sharks are drawn to areas with massive seal populations, so the Cape Cod area became one of their preferred hunting grounds. 

In the past few years, sightings of great white sharks have increased on Cape Cod. Experts think the increased sightings might not be because their population is increasing. According to experts, these sharks have been in the area for a long time. The surge in sightings might be because humans are getting better at detecting them. 

Shark Bite - Great White
The last fatal attack by a great white was on a bodyboarder on Newcomb Hollow Beach in 2018.

Alessandro De Maddalena/

How Often Are They Spotted? 

We can chalk down the increased sightings of great whites to advances in shark-tracking technology. However, there’s no denying that there have been a few more attacks and sightings over the past few years. According to data from the Boston Globe, an Atlantic white shark conservancy, the number of shark detections has increased yearly since 2013, with the detection rate increasing by 24% in 2021 alone. 

In 2017 there was a shark attack incident involving a paddle boarder off Marconi beach. An attack on a swimmer was also recorded in 2012. But neither of these were fatal attacks. 

The 2018 fatal attack on a bodyboarder on Newcomb Hollow Beach is the most recent death from a great white shark attack in Massachusetts. Before this, the last time anyone died from a shark bite in the state was in 1936 (this was a bull shark and not a great white shark). 

More recently, there have been more great white sightings than actual shark attacks. There have been a few incidents of great whites harassing kayaks, videos of them feeding on seals a few miles offshore, and reports of sightings via the newly launched Sharktivity app

The first notable sighting of the year was of an 11-foot great white shark on July 11 in Chatham Harbor. The shark had been previously identified as Luke by conservators. It was seen swimming close to the beach in the Gulf of Maine. Two days later, two other previously-identified sharks, Granese and Kendal, were spotted off Nauset Beach. 

Where Do They Live?

Sharks live on all ocean beaches on the Cape Cod peninsula. However, most of the great white sightings on cape cod have been on outer cape beaches. This includes the area from Monomoy Island in Chatham, stretching all the way up to Nauset Beach in Orleans, Eastham, Truro, Wellfleet, and Provincetown. 

It is impossible to say for sure where the great whites live and where they don’t. The only part of Cape Cod where you’re unlikely to run into great whites is in the ponds. You’re also less likely to encounter them on the beaches on the bay side and the southern side of the cape. That’s not to say that there aren’t sharks in these places. Sightings are rare there, but the fact that sharks can travel long distances in search of seals means there isn’t really any ocean beach in Cape Cod that can be deemed totally shark-free. 

Basically, if there are a lot of seals near any beach, the population of sharks there is likely to increase. Since seals seem to be all over the place these days, especially in the outer Cape Cod area, it means the risk of encountering great whites prowling the area is quite high. 

The great white shark and most of the other shark species that can be seen in Massachusetts only migrate to the area seasonally. Only one species, the porbeagle shark, lives on cape cod all year long. The others, including the great white shark in the warmest months of the year (usually from May to November). However, since this is the timing for increased tourist activities in the area, the risk of sightings and encounters with them is significantly high, 


Great white shark attacks on humans are rare. Still, there are ongoing efforts to keep people safer on the beaches of Cape Cod. Experts are ramping up efforts to tag as many of these sharks as possible. Lifeguards at the beaches also alert people when there have been sightings. The Sharktivity app has also proven to be an efficient way to report and document great white sightings. 

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing on health, technology and animals. He is inquisitive and currently aspires to become a software engineer. He loves animals, especially horses and would love to have one someday.

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