July 11, 2008

`JAWS’-SIZE FEAR SWEEPS VINEYARD ; Shark Sightings Prompt Vigilance


A Martha's Vineyard harbor master raised the alarming prospect of "Jaws returning" after a large shark was spotted cutting through the waves just 70 yards off South Beach yesterday.

An eagle-eyed lifeguard spotted the menacing fin off the Edgartown strand and ordered everyone out of the water yesterday morning, moments before a sightseeing plane overhead spotted the monster gliding just below the surface.

"This is a large shark," said Edgartown Harbor Master Charles Blair. "We don't know the species. It was a pretty big fin spotted about 70 yards from the beach. It's close enough for me. We got like Jaws returning over here."

Blair spent hours yesterday in a fruitless hunt for the toothsome sea beast. But it managed to elude any further sightings, including an all-out aerial hunt waged by the state, which paid a pilot to search waters off the beach for two hours after the initial sightings.

Blair said there were a total of three possible shark sightings yesterday, but no one could determine the species of shark spotted and whether it was the much-feared great white of "Jaws" movie fame.

The first sighting came in about 9:30 a.m. from the lifeguard tower on South Beach and was confirmed minutes later when a sightseeing biplane overhead radioed the location and description of the shark.

Then, Blair said, a sighting was called in anonymously about noon from Joseph Sylvia Beach.

"I got a feeling we gotta be vigilant," Blair said. "The same goes for our sister island, Nantucket. If you see them, you just try to see what direction they're swimming."

Blair said none of the beaches were closed, but shark warnings have been posted at both South Beach and Sylvia Beach.

Department of Conservation and Recreation spokeswoman Wendy Fox said the state cannot shut down the beaches, since it is public land that stretches for miles.

"We can't tell people they can't swim there," she said. "But we can recommend against it."

Blair said yesterday's shark sighting comes weeks after island fishermen reported seeing a rare great white breach - when the antediluvian horror burst through the water's surface.

The uptick in shark sightings not surprisingly coincides with a seal population explosion, Blair said. The cute, playful animals are actually harbingers of doom for casual swimmers, drawing predatory sharks from thousands of miles in search of their favorite meal.

"Vigilance is the word," Blair said about any threat the menace of movie fame may pose to humans.

Originally published by By O'RYAN JOHNSON.

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