Falmouth Resident Photographs Encounter With Great White Shark

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 07/10/12

The photograph is straight out of the movie “Jaws”—a great white shark’s dorsal fin peeks out of the water, just feet from a kayaker looking back as he attempts to paddle away.

That picture, taken by East Falmouth summer resident Michele R. Negrotti, has captivated the nation’s attention after it was picked up by the Associated Press following that close encounter at Nauset Beach in Orleans this past Saturday. Yesterday it was still being featured on the Yahoo.com home page and was listed as a top picture on MSNBC.com while both local and national television news stations have referred to the image during their recap of the story.

As Ms. Negrotti recounted yesterday afternoon, it was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting—in her case, twice—of a shark in Cape waters. “I’ve swam there [Nauset Beach] for the past 16 years, ever since I had my twin babies,” she said. “We always see seals, which are very popular there, but I had only seen a dorsal fin once when my twins were just babies.”

That sighting, roughly 16 years ago, was the brief topic of conversation on Saturday for Ms. Negrotti, her family, and their friends as they enjoyed what started off as a relatively quiet day at Nauset Beach.

As her children, Christopher, 16, and Matthew, 13, played Frisbee in the water, Ms. Negrotti suggested her daughter, Jessica, 16, join them. “She said, ‘No, I’m not going to go in. Besides I saw a shark over there,’ ” Ms. Negrotti said, at which point she picked up her digital camera and noticed a shark tailing a pair of kayaks, one red and one blue, about 100 yards offshore.

The shark began tailing the blue kayak and at one point got within five to 10 feet of it, which Ms. Negrotti was able to capture in digital form.

As the scene unfolded, Ms. Negrotti said, a group of onlookers, which included her husband Mark, began to wave the kayaker, later identified as Walter Szulc Jr. of New Hampshire, to shore as other beachgoers were instructed to get out of the water. “It wasn’t a panic scene,” Ms. Negrotti said. “It was very calm, everyone got out of the water and people were waving and shouting to the kayaker to paddle.”

Unlike most days at Nauset Beach, Ms. Negrotti said, the water was unusually calm, which was probably a good thing for Mr. Szulc. “The surf there is usually a lot rougher,” she said. “If it was a typical day, I’m not sure we would have seen the shark before we caught his attention.”

If he had been nudged or panicked or flipped the boat, that shark was really close. I was fearful for the man at the time. I’m glad it ended the way it did. Everyone was.

                                           Michele Negrotti

When the kayaker finally got out of the water, Ms. Negrotti said, “he was very shaken. It was his first time kayaking and he had told his daughter earlier that day, ‘What are the odds of me seeing a shark?’ It’s a good thing he remained calm.”

An estimated 3,000 people were at the beach that day, Ms. Negrotti said, with many not knowing what had happened and why they could not go into the water.

Some learned the reason why through Ms. Negrotti, who walked up to the lifeguard station immediately after the incident, camera in hand, as hundreds of children got a glimpse of the images she had just taken. “They were all excited to see it,” she said.

She finally showed the picture to the beach lifeguards, who then contacted the town’s harbor master, who confirmed the sighting of the great white shark, estimated to be between 12 and 15 feet long, by boat, effectively shutting down the beach for the remainder of the day.

Since then Ms. Negrotti has spoken to dozens of news outlets, including a telephone interview with “ABC News” as well as “Good Morning America” and sold two of her photos to the Associated Press.

While she is an avid photographer, she expressed surprise that no one else captured similar images of the scene. “I think I was the one closest to the water with a great camera,” she said, noting that the attention her two photos have received may compel her to pursue photography beyond just a hobby.

At the least, she said, she has an image worthy of framing either in their house in Upton or their summer one, owned by her in-laws Robert and Barbara Negrotti, in East Falmouth.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the whole ordeal is that, unlike the Stephen Spielberg film, this story had a happy ending. “If he had been nudged or panicked or flipped the boat, that shark was really close. I was fearful for the man at the time,” Ms. Negrotti said. “I’m glad it ended the way it did. Everyone was.”

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