Truro shark bite victim was standing, not swimming

Vineyard pilot has seen sharks close to Wasque.

A great white shark seen from above off Wasque, taken in 2016. - Photo courtesy Mike Creato

The widely reported shark bite in Truro Wednesday occurred when the victim was standing in the ocean 30 yards from shore, according to a Truro Police report.

The Cape Cod Times identified the victim as 61-year-old William Lytton of New York State.

Truro Fire Lt. Tim Collins was one of the first responders who came to Lytton’s aid on Long Nook Beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore.

“There’s a sandbar out in that area,” he said, regarding where Lytton was in the water. “His injuries were such that he needed to be transported to a Level 1 trauma center,” Lt. Collins said.

Lt. Collins said it was “a monumental effort” by Truro firefighters, police, and bystanders to get the victim up a 100- to 150-foot dune and off the beach. “He was conscious and talking when he was transferred to Boston Medflight,” he said.

As of 12:30 pm Friday, Lytton was listed in serious condition at Tufts Medical Center. His injuries were described as “left side hip and leg” in the police report.

The Boston Globe reported the type of shark behind the injuries is not yet known.

Cape Cod waters have become heavily populated with seals in recent years. Seals have attracted an increasing number of great white sharks. Seals are a mainstay of the white shark diet.

For the Vineyard, with its indelible “Jaws” legacy, the reality of these apex predators cruising local waters can be sobering.

Mike Creato, co-owner of Classic Aviators, told The Times he’s seen a couple of great whites around the Island this year.

A month ago he saw one close to Wasque, “about 30 feet from the beach.” The other he saw this year was “just south of Katama Bay, out in deeper water,” he said.

Last year Creato said he saw eight or nine white sharks. He attributes the smaller number this year to foggy weather and less clear water.

He pointed out the times he’s seen them relatively near swimmers, they appeared indifferent. “I never seen them show any interest whatsoever,” he said. “They never seem to alter their course.”

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which works with shark expert and former Vineyard resident Greg Skomal to track and educate the public about the sharks, has deployed buoys off Edgartown Great Pond and South Beach based on Creato’s information. The buoys detect pings from tagged sharks, though the data is only collected at the end of the season when the buoys are retrieved.
Professional shark photographer Paul Wildman, a board member of the shark advocacy group Shark Angels, told The Times white sharks aren’t interested in preying on people. They can, however, be curious, he said. People touch with their hands while sharks touch with their mouths, he said. But just a nibble can “translate into massive damage,” he said.

Passionate about shark conservation, Wildman said white sharks serve an important ecological role. “Without them, seal populations would get out of control,” he said. Overabundant seal populations in turn adversely affect fish populations.

“We’re lucky we don’t have the big seal population like Chatham,” Edgartown harbormaster Charlie Blair said.

Chris Kennedy, Vineyard stewardship manager for The Trustees of Reservations, agreed. “We don’t have a large aggregation of grey seals,” he said. While The Trustees has warning signs at the ready, there have been no shark sightings from any of the Trustees properties this year, nor have there been any reports of wounded seals coming ashore on Trustees beaches, he said.

Rangers have seen a few folks unwisely swimming near seals near Norton Point. They were warned not to, he said: “Why go looking for trouble?”

One of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy shark safety tips is keeping a minimum of 150 feet from seals, whether they are in the water or on land.

“If a shark sighting is posted, stay out of the water,” Kennedy said.

Wildman concurred. If a beach has been flagged or posted with a warning, “adhere to that,” he said.

Another tip from the Conservancy is not swimming in the sea at dusk or dawn, or while alone.

The conservancy also recommends swimming near shore, “where your feet can touch the bottom.”