Off the east coast of the United States, more and more white sharks

It’s an animal protection success with unfortunate ramifications: The great white shark population has increased in recent years off the US East Coast, raising the potential for unfortunate encounters with swimmers.

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Every year, during the summer months, these predators move up the Atlantic coast of the United States, towards New England. Peak season occurs between August and October.

In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the main character in sea ​​teeth Thus it became a tourist attraction adorning hats and T-shirts. But the beaches have already been temporarily closed this year due to the animal’s presence.

Nearly 300 great white sharks have been tagged over the years, and about 10 of them are already in the area, according to Gregory Scomal, a shark biologist in Massachusetts. It is estimated that more than a hundred great white sharks may pass through these waters each year.

Regulations have been in place in the Atlantic since the 1990s to protect them from fishing.

“There is a general increase in the population, which we think is a recovery after (…) very high levels of overexploitation”, he explains to AFP, even if it is still difficult to give an accurate estimate of their number.

White sharks also tend to swim close to shore to hunt one of their favorite prey: seals. They have also been protected, and their numbers are increasing.

The result: more sharks, closer to the swimming areas.

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“Shark attacks are very rare, but in the past 10 years we have seen more of them,” Gregory Scomal says.

bites

In New York state, the governor just announced additional surveillance patrols, including via drones or helicopters.

On the tourist beaches of Long Island, the press has already reported numerous shark bites – the white shark is not necessarily responsible, many other species develop in the area, particularly tiger sharks and bull sharks.

This number of attacks is extraordinary, after three years without any of them being condemned.

According to Gavin Naylor, director of the shark research program at the University of Florida, this observation is linked to the increased presence this year of certain fish that attract predators, possibly due to warm currents.

But if local things can vary greatly from year to year, on a global scale, about 75 shark attacks are still recorded each year – after dropping to about 60 during the two years of the pandemic. The number of deaths is about five.

In the past 20 years, only two deaths have been reported in northern Delaware in the US, on Cape Cod in 2018, and in Maine in 2020.

But in the future, it is reasonable to believe that the number of victims will increase. “There are more white sharks, so the probability will increase. (…) There will be more bites,” summarizes Gavin Naylor. For now, the overall differences observed are not statistically significant, he says.

Surfers, who venture deeper into the water, accounted for half of unprovoked attacks in 2021. To the south, Florida, with its many tourist beaches and tropical climate, remains the focus of 60% of US attacks – and nearly 40% of global attacks.

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risk reduction

Sharks are far from the bloodthirsty beasts that are sometimes portrayed in movies. Studies have shown that they can mistake surfers or swimmers for their usual prey — particularly white sharks, which have poor eyesight.

“With so many people in waters around the world, if sharks preferred to feed on their human prey, we would face tens of thousands of attacks each year,” Gregory Scomal says.

With climate change, the expert predicts that an increase in ocean temperatures will gradually lengthen the shark-hunting season in the northern United States.

So what can be done to reduce the risk?

There is an app so that everyone can report that they have seen a shark.

In the water, “look around,” New England marine biologist Nick Whitney advises. If a large number of birds are catching fish, “that probably means there are sharks feeding on them as well.”

And if you get bitten, the real danger is the bleeding, so it’s important to get to shore and control the bleeding until help arrives.

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