Sharks are more common in the South and Southwest but they are also found farther north, particularly in the summer months and throughout the Atlantic Ocean. In 2017, more than 400 shark attacks were reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a number that has increased by more than four percent per year since 2006. There were a total of 1,040 shark attacks reported in the United States between 1975 and 2016, according to NOAA.
Which makes beach-goers and beach-showers nervous: why are more and more sharks near shore? Here are the facts.
There’s a lot of fishermen around the South and Southwest, but they aren’t to blame for any increase in sharks. Anyone can hook a shark, in fact, including children. The explanation comes from the fact that the majority of sharks in the U.S. are filter feeders, meaning they eat by filtering out and filtering out the various bits of food in the ocean, like fish and jellyfish. The food is there, the sharks are attracted to it and attack. “Many of the larger sharks, like some great whites, see beaches as attractants,” says Nick Strohmeyer, shark biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History.
A rise in shark populations is normal. If people are catching more sharks than they used to, that simply means their numbers are on the rise, just like any other species’. Sharks are driven to find the best living conditions for themselves, so that if a particular food source is endangered, they’ll be able to find it even more easily. That means beach-goers need to be aware of the sharks around them. And sometimes, they’ll be forced to get a little more proactive.
“If I know a shark is there, and I can figure out a way to get the fish next to my tent out of their way, I am going to do it,” Strohmeyer says. He also recommends finding another area where you can watch the action so that if there is an attack, people can still go in the water. “If I know a shark is there, and I can figure out a way to get the fish next to my tent out of their way, I am going to do it,” Strohmeyer says. He also recommends finding another area where you can watch the action so that if there is an attack, people can still go in the water.
There are also risks involved with taking a selfie with a shark — for beach-goers and the sharks. Unlike sharks, animals that are far more approachable can become entrapped and even entangled in fishing lines, hooks and other debris, posing a serious danger to themselves and beach-goers. “When it gets really busy out there, the tourists may be out there snapping more than the sharks,” says Amber Walthall, a natural resource specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She recommends finding a spot with a nice natural scene, a lot of caution and a lot of opportunity to get those photos.
Eighty-five percent of shark bites in the U.S. are unprovoked, which doesn’t necessarily mean sharks are attacking people for no reason. “We see them opportunistically, we see them where they happen, where they are in the body of the sea,” says Strohmeyer. Instead, it’s sometimes because of a food source that the sharks are attracted to and where they then hunt.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the occasional scary encounter or that we should take our beach days less seriously, but there are also two recent shark-related deaths in Florida, which Walthall says could be in line with normal rates. “I’m not all that worried about it,” she says. “People should still protect themselves. They shouldn’t go into the water when there are sharks because of that fact.”
Read the full story at Quartz.
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