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Shark saved by humans: What response tells us about public perception (+video)

A great white shark beached in Chatham, Mass., was released back into the water amid cheers from beachgoers.

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In this 2015 photo provided by Discovery Channel, a great white shark researcher stands in the clear shark cage while a great white shark swims by during an episode of "Shark Week."

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In a twist, people saved a shark.

Chatham, Mass., Harbormaster Stuart Smith was called upon by beachgoers after a great white shark beached itself while on the hunt for food.

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Mr. Smith tells Providence Journal that when he arrived to the beach, about 40 people were crowded around, dumping water on the 7-foot shark.

“Everybody there was trying to save that shark,” Smith says.

Gregory Skomal, a shark scientist, happened to be in the area, out tagging great whites, and he arrived soon after Smith.

Smith says Mr. Skomal told him, “‘Thirty years ago, they’d want to kill it and now they want to save it.’”

The shark was tagged for tracking along the Cape Cod shore by Marine Fisheries officials, then slowly pulled on a line by Smith’s 13-foot Boston Whaler. About an hour later, the shark was safely back out to sea. It was the 11th great white sighting on Cape Cod this season, WCVB-TV reports.

While the spate of shark attacks and sightings along the East Coast, particularly in North Carolina and Florida, may make swimmers wary, Newsweek reports that the risk of a shark attack is down sharply.

The study found that since 1950, the chance of being attacked by a great white has declined by 91 percent in California. The risk of being bitten by any shark is down 78 percent. The study authors note that from 1950 to 2013 there have been only 86 “injurious” attacks off the coast of the state, 13 which were fatal.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year, and that population decline brings down the risk of attacks, according to a study to be published in July in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Beachgoers are 1,800 times more likely to die from drowning than from a shark bite.

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The shark in Chatham returned to the water amid cheers. “He was swimming at the surface, just moving along,” Skomal said. “If it survives, that’s just amazing.”