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Exclusive beach town torn apart by shark attack

Talk about an undesirable element.

During the Summer of 2018, 26-year-old engineering student Arthur Medici was boogie-boarding in the waters off Wellfleet, Massachusetts — one of the most sought-after addresses on Cape Cod — when he was attacked by a great white shark.

The stealth-wealth seasonal retreat has yet to recover from the traumatic event, according to locals interviewed in a new HBO documentary “After the Bite,” premiering Wednesday, July 26 (10 p.m.).

“I saw the blood … I went in [to the water]. A wave came up over Arthur’s face, I got underneath and pulled him up on top of me,” town resident Mitzi Riley told interviewers.

“I did look down at one point and saw that his legs were laced open, but … all the blood was long gone [washed away]. I…cried and waited for help to come. I had no clue what the hell had just happened. There was no helping this poor boy,” she recalled.

A person's legs dangling in the water below a surf board.
A person's legs dangling in the water below a surf board.
HBO
A crowded beach full of people lounging in the sand.
A crowded beach full of people lounging in the sand.
HBO

“After The Bite” chronicles the incident and the aftermath, showing the impact on quietly tony Wellfleet, where the average home value tops $900,000, according to Zillow.

Interviews range from lifeguards who are trying to keep the summer season upbeat but safe, to local fishermen and their tales of seeing “Jaws”-sized beasts in the water, to the scientists trying to tag the sharks and study their behavior.

Cape Cod is notoriously teaming with hundreds of man-eating sharks.

A great white shark with its mouth open.
A great white shark with its mouth open.
Courtesy Everett Collection
A posted for the documentary "After The Bite."
A posted for the documentary "After The Bite."
HBO

Local resident Dana Franchitto, who was on the beach that day, described how it felt to be among the crowd of beachgoers.

“After he was taken away [in an ambulance] there was such a stunned silence,” he said. “We were just looking at each other like, ‘Wow, did we just get punched in the face?’ That’s what it felt like.”

John Kartsounis, a local father of three children — two of them lifeguards — described the event as “horrific” and said it was a turning point in his attitude about recreational activities at the Cape Cod beaches.

“I’ve been surfing and swimming at these beaches for 35 years,” he said. “I won’t let my kids go in anymore. We have a problem here.”

Scientists don’t have an exact number for how many great white sharks are in the area. But according to “After The Bite,” they’ve tagged 275 great white sharks and they expect the real number to be upward of 400.

As the documentary shows, the influx of sharks into the upmarket enclave happened because they’re chasing seals — a major food source.

There has been a “significant shift in species on a global level,” Tufts University researcher Wendy Puryear explains in the film. “The polar ice caps are melting. So there’s a lot of animals in those latitudes coming down, looking for habitat.”

Locals are prohibited from killing or capturing seals in an attempt to combat the shark problem, thanks to the Marine Mammals Protection Act — signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon.

This regulation is particularly controversial among locals.

Seals on a beach.
Seals on a beach.
HBO
A shark in water, and a scientist standing on a boat holding a stick out trying to tag it.
A shark in water, and a scientist standing on a boat holding a stick out trying to tag it.
HBO

In the documentary, local fisherman Jeff Souza described how many of the fish species that used to be part of their business are now being eaten by seals, which in turn is causing fisheries to die — and bait and tackle shops to go under.

“Most fishermen know what’s going on and see the changes … we blame the seals,” he said. “Everything collapsed because the seals came in.”

He added that thanks to the MMPA, “You can’t touch them, you can’t look at them, you can’t even yell at them. To me, it’s like the whole ecosystem is out of line. It’s just been getting worse and worse.”

A life guard tower on a beach with a man jumping from it.
A life guard tower on a beach with a man jumping from it.
HBO

Some residents are calling for more tolerance for all living beings.

“I think we’d be better off if we realized we’re one strand on the web of life, instead of thinking of ourselves as the dominant species that controls everything,” Franchitto said.

“It’s never quite been the same since the fatal attack,” he added.

An entry path to a beach with a sign reading "be shark smart."
An entry path to a beach with a sign reading "be shark smart."
HBO

“It did cause a rift in the community. Some of these people are acting like the ocean is their playground, their swimming pool, and sharks and seals have no right to be in there. It doesn’t work that way.”

He’s a surfer, and at first, following the fatal shark attack, he was afraid to resume the sport.

“But then I got accustomed to being out there,” he said. “I’m careful, I don’t go out too deep. Surfers put stripes on the bottom of their boards now. I guess it confuses the sharks’ sensory apparatus … it seems to be effective. If you’re in the water frequently, chances are [that] lots of animals have seen you that you didn’t know were there.”

Lifeguards in Wellfleet standing on a tower pointing at the water.
Lifeguards in Wellfleet standing on a tower pointing at the water.
HBO

There hasn’t been a shark attack since Medici’s death in 2018.

However, lifeguards are still on edge.

Suzy Blake, head lifeguard of Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, said, “Definitely now it’s a lot more stressful and less carefree. We still have all the hazards we dealt with before like rip currents. And on top of that, we have this additional hazard called white sharks … If we see people swimming far out, it makes us nervous and we will tell them to come in. That’s another new thing that has come about because of the sharks.”

Local fisherman Beau Gribbin recalled seeing a great white shark attack a fish that he was trying to catch.

“If you saw what we just saw, you’d never go back in the water,” he said.

SOURCE: New york post