JAWS, Cape Sharks, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy

By | October 11, 2022

I was born the same year Steven Spielberg’s JAWS came out. Although I never saw it in theaters, it quickly captivated my imagination as a youth. Now in my late 40s, JAWS remains my favorite movie, and I’ve gleefully subjected my kids to it on more than one occasion.

A graffitied billboard foretells the danger of a massive great white shark in the 1975 film JAWS.

A graffitied billboard foretells the danger of a massive great white shark terrorizing an island in the 1975 film JAWS.

Perhaps as a direct result of that movie and countless summer viewings of Shark Week content, the great white shark remains at the top of my Favorite Animals list.

Sometime in the early 2000s, while my wife and I were visiting her grandmother on the Cape, I made my first visit to Martha’s Vineyard. For a JAWS enthusiast such as myself, it was exhilarating to be so close to where the movie magic of JAWS was made.

Sharks and Cape Cod

We still make our family trips to the Cape every summer. That there are great whites in the waters around Cape Cod remains a bonus “fun fact” that we are reminded of by the warning signs put up when we visit Nauset Beach. I always get excited thinking of the possibility that just maybe – out there in the water – there was a great white shark cruising up and down the coastline. (As luck would have it, we had a beach day interrupted by a great white this past summer.)

We generally stay around the Lower Cape during our summer visits, bouncing between Orleans and Chatham. I can’t remember exactly when I first noticed the Atlantic White Shark Conservatory Center on Route 28 in Chatham, but I was probably even more giddy to visit it than our kids were.

The Chatham Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Center

A happy family in front of the sign for AWSC Shark Center in Chatham.

We now make annual visits to the AWSC Shark Center in Chatham. Fun for the whole family!

This place is great! There are several interactive displays that are fun for the whole family. You will learn so much about the local great whites in addition to other sharks found in the area. They have artifacts on display ranging from shark teeth to a surfboard that mistaken as a snack to research buoys and receivers. Then, I spotted the framed storyboard sketches from JAWS that had been donated to the Conservatory. The lifelong JAWS fan inside of me thought this was the coolest.

Framed storyboard sketches from JAWS on display at the Chatham Shark Center.

Framed storyboard sketches from JAWS on display at the Chatham Shark Center.

The center offers other fun activities for smaller kids (like digging for fossils and a large life-size shark puzzle outside on the lawn), and of course has a ton of historical data and scientific information on great whites. The conservatory’s mission is to educate the public on these animals and continue to research their movement and behaviors with a big emphasis on public safety.

The New Shark Center in Provincetown

This past year, in May 2022, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy opened its second Shark Center location on the MacMillan Pier in Provincetown. I was initially concerned that this new location would essentially be a repackaging of the Chatham location. I was not giving the Conservatory enough credit. The new Provincetown location has all new displays and interactive attractions, providing a completely different experience than the Chatham location.

A sign and shark head mark the Provincetown AWSC Shark Center.

The AWSC Shark Center in Provincetown opened in 2022 and offers a different experience than the Chatham location.

The Provincetown location features several new interactive exhibits that are fun for shark fans of all ages. You can stand inside a replica shark cage while listening to actual recordings of researchers and divers as they encounter sharks underwater. They also have a collection of shark jaws and teeth found around the Cape from various species of sharks.

My 11-year-old son, meanwhile, was engrossed in a tabletop sandbox that featured an interactive projection of sharks and seals onto the always-changing landscape. As my son would manipulate the kinetic sand with his hands, the overhead projection would adapt to the new topography, and shark silhouettes would seek deeper water while seal silhouettes would seek refuge on higher ground. It was impressive technology and kept my son engaged for quite a long time.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (with a Purpose)

On the way out, we bought some stickers and t-shirts. Proceeds from the gift shop at both locations go directly to help the non-profit conservancy. As a lifelong great white shark fan, I love being able to help with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy mission via our ticket admission and gift shop purchases. (And I secretly feel extra cool walking around in a shark shirt!)

Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Helps You Track the Cape Cod Sharks

Atlantic White Shark Conservatory logo

I would be remiss not to mention some of the great resources the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy have made available for other shark enthusiasts. Here are two:

White Shark Tracker – this tool presents visualizations of acoustic detection data of tagged white sharks from 2010-2021.

Sharktivity App – follow along in real-time as sharks are spotted or detected around Cape Cod and beyond.

Want to get up close and personal with Cape Cod sharks? Check out our favorite Cape Cod Shark Tours!

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