40 years ago, Jaws terrified beach-goers from swimming too far from the shore. Now, in real life, great white sharks are filling the waters off Cape Cod.

Forty years ago this month, Jaws, Peter Benchley’s best-selling toothy fish tale, was made into an iconic movie that helped usher in a new era of blockbuster films. Set in a fictional New England town, it told the tale of a bloodthirsty great white shark that developed a taste for humans and a penchant for gory mischief. Filmed primarily on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Cape Cod, the irony was that while sharks such as the porbeagle, thresher, tiger, and mako were abundant, great whites were relatively a rare encounter.

Fast-forward forty years, and that is no longer the case. Great whites are now in abundance in the waters around Cape Cod. These regular seasonal visitors have reached the point of tourist attraction, drawing throngs to the Cape’s sandy beaches in hopes of a glimpse of one of the toothy beasts. Even with an uptick in attacks—several have been reported in recent years—the community vibe is more welcoming than menacing.

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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