Why shark encounters are increasing along the US East Coast

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Sunscreen, insect repellent and the Sharktivity app are must-have beach accessories this summer along the US East Coast, as man-shark encounters increase.

Ironically, conservation gains for vulnerable species could be driving the unfortunate rise, experts say, while there could also be a link to climate as apex predator prey moves higher. new waters.

Each summer, great whites swim up the Atlantic coast of the United States, toward New England, with their numbers peaking between August and October.

“There is a general population increase which we believe is the population that rebounds from being protected,” Gregory Skomal, senior fisheries researcher for the state of Massachusetts, told AFP.

The iconic movie ‘Jaws’ was filmed on Cape Cod, and the creatures are a major tourist draw

JOSEPH PREZIOSO

About 300 of these animals, the largest known fish in the world, have been tagged over the years, with about 100 crossing the waters around Cape Cod each year.

The iconic movie “Jaws” was filmed in this area, and the creatures are a major tourist draw, adorning baseball caps and t-shirts. On the other hand, however, there have already been temporary beach closures this year after confirmed sightings near the shore.

A big part of the reason is that their main prey, seals, also bounces around thanks to increased protections.

“If you have more sharks feeding close to land and more people swimming around, the chances of negative interactions like this increase,” Skomal said.

Enter the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Sharktivity app, which was developed with input from Massachusetts wildlife officials to provide information on shark sightings from researchers, safety officials, and user reports.

Seals are bouncing on Cape Cod – just like their predators, the great white sharks

JOSEPH PREZIOSO

In New York State, the governor has just announced additional surveillance patrols, in particular via drones and helicopters.

On tourist beaches on Long Island, half a dozen shark bites have already been discovered, after three years without any bites.

Here, great whites are less likely to be the culprit than other shark species that operate in the area, especially tiger sharks, sand tiger sharks, and bulldog sharks.

Nick Whitney, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, thinks the increase in encounters here may be linked to the scavenging of shark baitfish – menhaden, also known as porgies or bunkers.

This could be due to cleaner waters off New York and New Jersey, “but it is difficult to determine to what extent this is increasing populations or simply populations shifting due to changing ocean conditions due to the climate change”.

But if things can thus vary greatly from one year to another at the local level, the global level remains stable around 75 shark attacks recorded each year, indicated Gavin Naylor, director of a research program on sharks. at the University of Florida.

The great white shark

Adrian Leung

This follows a brief dip to around 60 in the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Annual deaths worldwide are around five. In the last twenty years, only two deaths have been reported in northern Delaware in the United States, in Cape Cod in 2018 and in Maine in 2020.

But in the future, it is reasonable to think that the number of victims will increase.

“We are going to have more deaths. There are more white sharks, the probability will increase,” predicts Naylor, even if the trend is not yet statistically significant.

Surfers, who venture deeper into the water, accounted for half of unprovoked attacks in 2021. Further south, Florida, with its many tourist beaches and tropical climate, is still where 60% occur. US attacks and 40% of global attacks.

Flags direct swimmers to the safest areas of Long Beach in Long Beach, New York; beaches were closed or restricted after a number of sharks were spotted along Long Island this summer

BRUCE BENNETT

Sharks are a far cry from the bloodthirsty beasts sometimes portrayed in movies.

Studies have shown that they can confuse surfers or swimmers with their usual prey, especially white sharks, which have rather poor eyesight.

“With so many people globally in the water, if sharks preferred to feed on prey over humans, we would have tens of thousands of attacks every year,” Skomal said.

With climate change, the expert expects rising ocean temperatures to gradually lengthen the season when sharks are present in the northern United States.

So what can be done to limit the risks? People should download the Sharktivity app to track sightings.

“Another thing we tell people is to just be aware of your surroundings,” Whitney said. Look for birds flying around schools of baitfish, for example.

Don’t swim alone, stay in areas covered by cell phones, and if you’re bitten the real danger is bleeding, so it’s important to get to shore and control the bleeding until help arrives .

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