CHATHAM – Sharks in the Park will be back this summer – for perhaps the last time – but they won't be in the park.
Rather, the exhibit of colorfully-decorated cut-outs of the predators of the deep, the town's most high-profile summer visitors, will be staged on the lawn of the Eldredge Public Library. Call it Sharks at the Library.
The colorful, whimsically decorated five-foot sharks attract thousands of viewers each summer, capitalizing on the town's reputation as the epicenter of great white shark activity off Cape Cod for the past several years.
Security is the main reason the sharks won't be starting the season in their usual spot in Kate Gould Park, said Rebecca Voelkel, president of the Chatham Merchants Association, which sponsors the exhibit. In previous years the popular exhibit has gone up in the park in May and moved to the library before the Chatham Band's first concert the weekend before the Fourth of July holiday. But the sharks have been the target of thieves – at both locations, actually – almost as soon as they are installed. An upgraded security system is being put in place this year, said Sharks in the Park organizer Janice Rogers, and to install the system in the park only to have to move it again a few weeks later isn't practical.
A new more secure anchoring system will be used this year as well to keep the shark art more firmly in place, she added.
The duration of the exhibit will also be shortened, starting in June rather than May, Voelkel said, and the number of sharks has been dropped from 56 to 40.
“It's a lot to keep them secure,” she said, and moving the sharks from the park to the library was a “huge feat.”
Last year there were several attempts to steal sharks from the exhibit; only one was not recovered. The artist of that shark recreated the piece for the high bidder in an online auction. The auction raised more than $62,000; half went to the artists, half benefited the merchants association to fund activities like Christmas by the Sea and Oktoberfest as well as scholarships. An online auction of the sharks will be held this year as well.
The merchants association is also sponsoring another scavenger hunt this summer. “Where are the Whales?” will have participants seeking 36 three-foot decorated whales in businesses throughout town, with prizes awarded at the end of the summer.
Sharks and whales can be reserved online beginning March 16 through the website Eventbrite; there will be a link to the reservation page on the Chatham Merchants Association's website, chathammerchants.org. Voelkel said using the website will give more businesses an opportunity to obtain a shark. They will be distributed at the Creative Arts Center on March 29. The sharks are scheduled to go up on the library lawn June 15 and will stay there through Aug. 17. Sharks are available to Chatham businesses and organizations for $150 each; the whales are $50 and are available only to Chatham Merchants Association members. Sponsors can find their own artists or chose from a list on the organization's website. Designs must be approved by the merchants association within two weeks.
This is the exhibit's fifth year; it began in 2013 but skipped 2014. It is also the last. Merchants association officials said they want to end on a high note and then explore other shapes for future summer exhibits. The library lawn is also scheduled for a complete makeover and will probably not be available next summer and, like the park, may not be available after this season.
“Anybody waiting to get [a shark], now's the time to get involved,” said Voelkel. “Every year it gets better and better. This being the last year doing the shark shape, I think we'll end up with 40 really unique sharks for people to bid on.”