CHATHAM – Beaches along Chatham Harbor were closed Thursday afternoon after a fishermen saw a great white shark bite a seal in half off Andrew Harding's Lane Beach.
Peter O'Neill was coming in through the 1987 inlet shortly after 3 p.m. after a day of fishing when he spotted a “giant pool of blood with the head of seal poking out” in the channel about 150 yards off the beach.
The seal had already been bitten “completely in half” and O'Neill saw the shark's dorsal and tail fin circling the animal, which was still alive and trying to swim away, he said. The incident happened between the red nun and green can buoys, he said, between Lighthouse Beach and Andrew Harding's Lane Beach. He sent an alert to Dr. Greg Skomal and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, who were on the water on one of their twice-weekly shark population study trips.
It capped a busy day on the water for the shark researchers, who had seen more than a half dozen sharks between Monomoy and Nauset and tagged two. They were not far off when they were notified of the attack in Chatham Harbor, said Cynthia Wigren of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, who was on the shark tagging boat. When they met O'Neill they saw the seal carcass and Skomal “very briefly” glimpsed the shark, Wigren said, but not long or clearly enough to see any distinguishing characteristics. Based on the damage the animal did to the seal, she estimated the shark was about 12 feet long.
It's the first time a shark has been confirmed inside Chatham Harbor this summer, and may be the first confirmed seal predation in the harbor.
As soon as they received the alert the harbormaster's office ordered the Lighthouse Beach patrol to clear swimmers from the water. A harbor patrol boat and the department's jet ski were sent to clear swimmers from Andrew Harding's Lane Beach. About 300 people were at the beach at the time.
“The seals were skittish” all day Thursday, said Lighthouse Beach Supervisor Vince Gulotta.
O'Neill, a Chatham resident, said he's seen sharks offshore before, but “nothing quite like this.”