WELLFLEET — Kristian Sexton, who says he is developing an aerial imaging system using drones to detect sharks, claims that there are “a number of serious problems” with the Woods Hole Group (WHG) Shark Mitigation Study that was presented at a public forum in October at Nauset Regional High School.
After the forum, which was attended by about 200 people, many of whom stood up to ask questions or make statements, an online comment period extended to Dec. 16. Sexton was the only person to submit a written comment, according to Leslie Reynolds, chief ranger at the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS).
“I’m not too surprised,” Reynolds said. “I think those who wanted to make comments made them at that public event.”
Still, it was expected that after having time to read through the study people would submit responses during the comment period.
Sexton, a pilot and CEO of Moosh Systems, submitted a 20-page document outlining his concerns with the WHG analysis of visual detection methods for sharks in Cape Cod waters.
“For me, [the Woods Hole Group] lost all credibility,” Sexton told the Independent. “The report was a failure.”
The WHG study, a collaboration among Lower Cape towns, CCNS, and Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC), cost about $50,000 and surveyed 27 mitigation methods, including technology-based, barrier-based, and biologically based alternatives. Ultimately, WHG concluded that there is no silver bullet that can guarantee safety for swimmers at Cape Cod beaches.
To analyze visual detection methods — planes, helicopters, drones, towers, etc. — the WHG report reviewed one study, Sexton argued, that focused specifically on the ability of human observers in a fixed-wing plane and helicopter to spot roughly eight-foot wooden shark analogs moored in the water.
Sexton said that WHG did not understand the study and reported its results incorrectly.
Sexton said that the conditions of the waters in Australia, where the study was carried out, cannot be directly applied to Cape Cod waters, although he did agree with WHG that it’s impossible to detect all sharks in the water through any form of visual detection.
At the end of its visual detection analysis, WHG stated, “It is likely that this level of performance will carry across all methods of visual detection.”
Sexton said that there are no references or evidence for this assertion. “There’s no theory there,” he said.
Adam Finkle of WHG declined to comment on Sexton’s analysis. He said that it is ultimately up to the regional shark working group, made up of Outer Cape town officials, CCNS officials, and the AWSC, to determine how to address comments.
Truro Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer told the Independent in November that town officials and Seashore officials planned to discuss responses once the comment period ended. Palmer did not respond to a call last week.
Reynolds said more research will be conducted this summer by Greg Skomal, the CCNS, and the Center for Coastal Studies. She said that scientists at Coastal Studies will be studying the nearshore environment across the Outer Cape to better understand tides, sediment movement, and channels or highways that sharks are most likely to pass through.
“We want to understand how sharks travel along the coast,” she said. “There’s a lot more scientific research to be done.”
She added that beachgoers can expect more educational pop-up tents on sharks and water safety at beaches this summer.
“The shark working group is going to continue to work on education, research, and public safety,” she said, and added that the decision to implement any kind of technology would be made at a higher level than the towns or the Seashore.