Globally, the number of shark attacks is at the same level as in previous years, Naylor said. curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, but there are indications that there could be a resurgence along the northeast coast of the United States.
“We are on trend for this time of year. I think globally we usually get 70 to 80 unprovoked shark bites around the world. But this is a global phenomenon. And it spreads unevenly,” Naylor explained.
“In one year, we might have two or three bites in Hawaii in quick succession. Next year it could be New Caledonia, it could be Western Australia. And this year it will be off the coast of Long Island.”
Fish, not people
Sharks that are swimmers Naylor explained that they ran into Long Island looking for food, not people. Most of them Identified as sand tiger sharks, which, while intimidating, are not considered aggressive, according to Naylor. They probably entered the coastal waters to hunt for numerous shoals of bait near the coast.
He explained that the shoals have been especially dense this year due to warm ocean currents that separate from the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean and extend up the northeast coast. These waters are richer in chlorophyll, which allows plankton to bloom, which also attracts bait.
“These baits gather in flocks of hundreds of thousands or even millions,” Naylor said, “and when they get very close to the shore, the sharks follow them.
“Sharks swim around trying to catch their lunch. People are swimming around splashing around with beach balls in their circle… The surf area gets pretty dark with all the energy and all the sharks are ringing because they are happy to see all that food – they make a mistake every now and then.”
Unlike adult sand tiger sharks, which are up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) long, 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) long juveniles can come closer to shore to chase fish.
“As you can imagine, it’s the same with any mammal: the young ones are not as experienced. They don’t have as many pattern recognition skills as adults,” Naylor said. “We strongly suspect that these are juveniles, their judgment and discrimination of what is someone’s leg and what is the shimmer of the scales of a bony fish.
“You have a bunch of juvenile sharks and they’re running around chasing fish.”
Off the coast of Cape Cod, where a number of great white sharks have been spotted this summer, a different dynamic has been seen, leading to the closure of at least one beach. Naylor said there were no reports of shark bites to his knowledge.
“Until now, we didn’t know how much time they spent in shallow water close to shore,” lead author Megan Winton, a researcher at the Atlantic White Shark Sanctuary, said in a news release last year. North Chatham, Massachusetts non-profit organization provides funding and resources for scientific research to improve public safety.
This is the only place in the Atlantic Ocean where white sharks congregate. To date, researchers have identified and tagged about 300 white sharks, but there is no official population estimate yet.
Regardless of the type of shark, the protection measures are the same, Naylor said: don’t swim or surf alone, and don’t swim near large schools of fish or if you spot seals nearby. Don’t wear jewelry in the water that a shark might confuse with the shimmer of fish scales. If you spot a shark, get out of the water slowly. Don’t panic and don’t spray.