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Shark encounters in the US Northeast: The increase explained

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Several experiences of shark chunk accidents and a spate of sightings of the marine predators off the Northeast coast of the United States have rattled summer season beachgoers.

But are New York’s Long Island and Cape Cod, the peninsula of Massachusetts, the place a lot of the current suspected shark encounters have taken place, experiencing something distinctive? Yes and no, based on Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Globally, shark assaults are at comparable ranges to earlier years, stated Naylor, who can also be a curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History, however there are indicators that the Northeast coast of the US is likely to be seeing an uptick.

“We are right on trend for this time of year. I think globally, we usually get between 70 and 80 unprovoked bites by sharks around the world. But that’s a global phenomenon. And it’s distributed in a patchy way,” Naylor explained.

“One year we might have two or three bites in Hawaii in rapid succession. Next year, it could be New Caledonia; it could be in Western Australia. And this year, it’s off the coast of Long Island.”

Naylor declined to provide the year-to-date totals to date, saying it takes time to research and authenticate reported bites. (Naylor’s work at the Florida Museum of Natural History entails monitoring information on shark assaults.) Last year, there have been 73 confirmed unprovoked cases of shark bites – in line with a five-year common of 72 incidents yearly. There had been 11 shark-related fatalities, nonetheless, up from a median of 5 per year.

The sharks that swimmers have encountered off Long Island had been looking for out meals, not focusing on people, Naylor explained. Most have been recognized as sand tiger sharks, Naylor stated, which, whereas fearsome trying, aren’t thought of aggressive. They have probably been venturing into coastal waters to prey on plentiful shoals of bait fish near shore.

The shoals had been significantly dense this year due to heat ocean currents peeling off from the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean and increasing up the Northeast coast, he explained. These waters are richer in chlorophyll, permitting plankton to bloom, which additionally attracts in bait fish.

“These bait fish are in schools of hundreds of thousands – or millions,” Naylor stated, “and once they get fairly near shore, the sharks comply with them.

“The sharks are swimming around trying to chase their dinner. The people are swimming around splashing with beach balls in their circle. … The surf zone gets quite murky because of all the energy and the sharks are all jingled up because they’re excited to see all this food – once in a while they make a mistake.”

Contributing to the downside is a sand tiger shark nursery, discovered in 2016, off the coast close to shore waters of Long Island’s Great South Bay, the place sharks starting from a number of months to five years in age feed and develop. (The sharks are born off the southeastern US coast earlier than migrating north and spending their summer season in New York waters and returning south once more in the fall, based on the Wildlife Conservation Society.)

Unlike grownup sand tiger sharks, that are as much as 9 toes (2.7 meters) lengthy, the 4- to 5-foot-long (1.2- to 1.5-meter-long) juveniles might go nearer to shore to chase fish.

“As you can imagine, (the) same with any mammals, juveniles aren’t as experienced. They don’t have as much pattern recognition skills as adults,” Naylor stated. “We suspect strongly that it’s the juveniles and their judgment and discernment between what’s any individual’s foot and what’s a flash of a bony fish’s scales.

“You’ve got a bunch of teenage sharks and they’re running around chasing fish.”

A great white shark swims approximately 164 feet (50 meters) off the coast of the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts on July 15.

Different dynamics have been at play off Cape Cod, the place a number of nice white sharks have been noticed this summer season, prompting the closure of not less than one seashore. Naylor stated there are not any experiences of shark bites, to his information.

During summer season and fall, white sharks hunt seals – their most well-liked prey – alongside the area’s shoreline, which may carry them near widespread seashores. Based on tagging information from 14 sharks, a study released last year in the journal Wildlife Research discovered that they spent nearly half their time at depths of 15 toes (4.6 meters) or much less. This means there’s a excessive potential for his or her presence in leisure waters frequented by swimmers and surfers.

“Until now we didn’t know just how much time they spent in shallow water close to shore,” stated lead writer Megan Winton, a analysis scientist at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, in a information launch final year. The North Chatham, Massachusetts-based nonprofit offers funding and resources for scientific analysis to enhance public security.

The population of great white sharks off Cape Cod has elevated in tandem with the native seal inhabitants, which rebounded in the many years following the Marine Animals Protection Act of 1972.

It’s the solely place in the Atlantic Ocean the place white sharks congregate. To date, round 300 white sharks have been recognized and tagged by researchers, however there’s no official inhabitants estimate but.

Since 2012, there have been 4 unprovoked assaults by white sharks on people alongside the coast of Cape Cod, including one fatal attack in 2018, the first in Massachusetts since 1936.

No matter what sort of shark, Naylor stated the measures to guard your self are comparable: Don’t swim or surf by yourself, and don’t swim close to large shoals of fish or should you spot seals close by. Don’t put on jewellery in the water {that a} shark may confuse for the shimmer of fish scales. If you do spot a shark, again out of the water slowly. Don’t panic and splash round.

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