Two signs at the top of the dune at Newcomb Hollow Beach alert visitors that the beach is closed to swimming, Saturday, September 15, 2018. Image Credit: AP

Wellfleet, Massachusetts: A man was bitten by a shark on Saturday in the water off a Cape Cod beach and died later at a hospital, becoming the state's first shark attack fatality in more than 80 years.

The 26-year-old man from Revere succumbed to his injuries following the attack off Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet at around noon, Wellfleet Police Lt. Michael Hurley said.

Joe Booth, a local fisherman and surfer, said he was on shore when he saw the man and his friend boogie boarding when the attack happened.

He said he saw the man aggressively kick something behind him and a flicker of a tail from the water. He realised what was happening when the man came ashore dragging his injured friend.

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"I was that guy on the beach screaming, 'Shark, shark!" Booth said. "It was like right out of that movie Jaws. This has turned into Amity Island real quick out here."

Booth said others on the beach attempted to make a tourniquet while others frantically called 911.

Hayley Williamson, a Cape Cod resident and former lifeguard who was on the beach at the time, was in disbelief after the man was rushed into an ambulance.

"We've been surfing all morning right here and they were just further down," she said of the two boogie boarders. "Right spot, wrong time, I guess."

Life-saving measures were attempted on the beach before the man was taken to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, where he was pronounced dead, State Police spokesman David Procopio said. The beach has been closed to swimming.

The family of the victim was notified of the death but his name was not released, Procopio said.

It was the first fatal shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936, and the second shark attack this season.

A 61-year-old New York man was severely injured on August 15 after fighting off a shark off Truro, about 6.4 kilometres north of Saturday's attack. He's currently recovering in a Boston hospital.

"Today is just [about] keeping everyone out of water," Hurley said. "There'll be a determination later about what the town wants to do with the beaches going forward."

Beachgoers said the Wellfleet beach is popular with surfers, and with sunny skies and warm temperatures on Saturday it was busy, even though the summer season was over and lifeguards were no longer on watch.

Many sightings 

There have been frequent shark sightings this summer along the outer Cape, often leading to beach closings. The National Park Service, which manages many of the picturesque beaches where white sharks tend to congregate, said it closed beaches for at least an hour about 25 times this year - more than double the annual average.

A Cape Cod politician said officials who did not take more aggressive action against sharks bore some responsibility for the fatal attack. Barnstable County Commissioner Ron Beaty said he had warned something like this could happen and urged measures to reduce the number of white sharks.

"It is my personal belief that the responsibility for this horrible shark attack rests squarely upon the shoulders of the aforementioned officials for their utter lack of attention and inaction regarding the growing shark problem on Cape Cod of the last few years," he said.

The state's last shark attack fatality was on July 25, 1936, when 16-year-old Joseph Troy Jr. was bitten in waters off Mattapoisett.

Troy, of Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, was visiting an uncle and was swimming about 15 metres offshore when the shark attacked.