brown wooden fence during sunset

Cape Cod Harbors Unexpected Wildlife

Cape Cod, the famous Massachusetts summertime destination shaped like a hook, is renowned for its sandy beaches, quaint villages, historic lighthouses, and spectacular ocean and bay vistas. Each year visitors arrive, hoping to relax or explore all the area offers. Some are pretty surprised to discover Cape Cod harbors unexpected wildlife.

Cape Cod National Seashore

The Cape Cod National Seashore comprises 40 miles of pristine sandy beach within Cape Cod. According to National Park Service statistics, approximately 4 million people visit the seashore annually. 

Many visitors plan to enjoy some of the best beaches in the United States and watch for migrating whales. However, the national seashore houses diverse habitats beyond the ocean, including marshes, ponds, forests, and sandplain grasslands. Diverse ecosystems can attract a wide variety of wildlife.

Great White Sharks

a great white shark with its mouth open in the water
Great white shark. Photo credit: Alex Steyn

Cape Cod is known as a world-class destination for seal and whale watching. Shark sightings off the peninsula were previously uncommon. According to Scientific American, Cape Cod has surprisingly become a hotspot for great white sharks in the past decade. 

The sharks typically gather in warmer locations such as Australia, South Africa, or Mexico. Cape Cod has one of the most extensive seasonal gatherings of great white sharks and is the first documented hotspot in the North Atlantic.

Scientists believe the increasing gray seal population has attracted more sharks off the coast of Massachusetts. The most significant concentration of great whites typically occurs from June through October, at the very time when the region receives most of its visitors. 

It is essential to note that sharks hunt for seals in shallow waters. Visitors can be shark smart by swimming, paddling, and surfing in groups, staying close to shore, and avoiding areas where seals or schools of fish are visible.

Sea Turtles

brown and black turtle on water
Sea turtle near Cape Cod. Photo credit: Joshua J. Cotten

Many people envision sea turtles swimming in warm, tropical waters. Although sea turtles rarely nest north of the Carolinas, they typically swim north along the beautiful east coast to feed on the plentiful algae, crabs, and jellyfish.

The most commonly spotted species in Cape Cod are Kemp’s Ridley, Green, Leatherback, and Loggerhead. Sightings may come from boaters or visitors on the beach. The United States Endangered Species Act lists all four species as threatened or endangered.

As cold-blooded creatures, sea turtles must stay in reasonably warm waters. When autumn approaches, Cape Cod Bay begins to cool. Some turtles get confused and trapped within the chilly waters of the hook-shaped peninsula. 

If a sea turtle cannot navigate out of the bay by winter, it may become “cold-stunned.” The hypothermia-like state leaves the turtle unable to swim or eat.

Eastern Spadefoot Toads

The eastern spadefoot toad is one of the rarest amphibians in the northeastern United States and a threatened species in Massachusetts. However, the amphibian, surprisingly, has been spotted throughout the national park site in Cape Cod. 

The eastern spadefoot toad is a descendant of desert dwellers. Each of its hind feet has a sharp spade for burrowing. They prefer dry environments with loose or sandy soils and sparse vegetation to dig burrows quickly. 

The toads spend most of their time underground. Cape Cod’s sandy beaches are ideally suited to their needs. Sightings occur most often during rainy nights in spring or summer.

Bats

unexpected Cape Cod wildlife - big brown bat
Big brown bat. Photo credit: NPS/J. Borden

When visiting a beach or coastal region, most tourists think about something other than bats. Eight species of bats are known to live in Cape Cod. The big brown bat is the most commonly spotted species at the seashore.

Some bats eat fruit, seeds, and pollen—all species on Cape Cod feed on insects. Visitors should appreciate that the nocturnal predators do their part to reduce the insect population.

The general population of bats in the United States is decreasing due to a disease called white-nose syndrome. Big brown bats are less sensitive to the fungus. 

Some of the other bat species in Cape Cod are threatened or endangered. Biologists continue to study the disease to prevent the extinction of those species. Big brown bats play a critical role in the research.

Coyotes

Finding a coyote in Cape Cod was unthinkable at one time. They have taken up residence on the peninsula for the past few decades. Most visitors are likelier to hear their high-pitched howls than to come across one.

Part of the canine family, coyotes are wild dogs that live in small family units. Attacks on adult humans are rare. They can be a danger to young children and pets.

Coyotes in Cape Cod often feed on rabbits and mice. At times, they will search for food in the trash.

Coyotes typically stay in rural areas, avoiding people unless they need food. They are most active at night and early morning in areas inhabited by people. If visitors should encounter one, it is best to show respect by admiring them from a distance.

Another Reason to Visit Cape Cod

Cape Cod is more than just a summer getaway destination. It is a beautiful area housing varied ecosystems and unique wildlife. We must be aware of our surroundings, whether on land or in the water. If we admire the animals from a distance, Cape Cod will remain a prime spot to vacation and observe wildlife for many generations.

Featured image credit: A n v e s h

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Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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