Shark Week 2022 is in full swing. But instead of settling in for some at-home viewings, this summer has been an IRL shark week for some Americans. This month, officials closed beaches in New York and Massachusetts due to shark attacks and sightings.
But seeing a shark may not be as alarming as “Jaws” has made us think. Our “Skimm This” podcast talked to Candace Fields, a PhD student in the predatory ecology and conservation lab at Florida International University, to understand more about what these sightings mean. And just how scared we should be about them.
Why have there been so many shark sightings?
Sharks seem to be loving the New York summer in particular. Over the past two months, there have been five reports of non-fatal shark bites on Long Island alone — which is an area that apparently only used to average about one shark attack every 10 years.
According to Fields, we can attribute the rise in shark sightings to a few factors, like…
Proximity. We needed Fields to tell us what we've all been dreading: "At the end of the day, if you're in the ocean, it's possible that there's a shark near you." Because sharks have always been swimming around. So that’s cool. And one thing that's helped us come to this realization is…
New technology. “People have drones and all these things that, in the past, wouldn't have been possible [to allow us to see sharks],” she said. “So even though there could have been a shark around people, they just would have been none the wiser.”
Climate change. Fields pointed out that it’s not that shark populations are growing. It’s that warmer oceans are changing where they live. “Sharks are inhabiting areas that they might not have in the past. They might be moving slightly later in the year or earlier in the year, depending on what they need to do in terms of their temperature preferences,” Fields said.
What does the increase in shark sightings mean?
Some experts say it’s not such a bad thing. It's actually a signal that conservation efforts are working, after shark populations took a nosedive in the 1970s. Because people actually kill more sharks (about 100 million per year) than sharks kill people (eleven or less per year).
Plus, there’s the fact that sharks have had some bad PR. “People's perspectives of sharks have unfortunately been taken from a lot of sensationalized movies or TV shows or posts online. And that causes an inherent fear in people without having had any interaction with the shark at all,” Fields said. “Seeing a shark is actually a good thing. Sharks are related to healthy oceans, and healthy oceans are imperative for a healthy planet.” Think: less “Jaws”, more “Finding Nemo”.
If all of this still has you stressing about your next beach trip, maybe this will help: Apparently getting attacked by a shark is more rare than getting killed by lightning. And Fields gave Skimm’rs some advice: "Make sure you're aware of your surroundings...Make sure you're not going out there alone. It's always good to have someone else to rely on in the off chance you do encounter a shark."
Hear more about the recent shark sightings below.
Shark sightings and bites may be on the rise. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy swimming in the ocean this summer. And if you’d rather not, that’s what Shark Week and air-conditioning are for.
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