WASHINGTON: It’s been an animal protection success with unfortunate consequences: great whites have increased in numbers in recent years off the east coast of the United States, increasing the likelihood of encounters Unfortunately for swimmers.
Each year, during the summer months, these predators move up the Atlantic coast of the United States, towards New England. The peak of the season occurs between August and October.
In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the protagonist of “Jaws” has thus become a tourist attraction, adorning caps and t-shirts. But beaches have also had to temporarily close this year because of the animal’s presence.
Nearly 300 great whites have been tagged over the years, and about 10 of them have been present in the area, according to Massachusetts shark biologist Gregory Skomal. He estimates that more than a hundred great white sharks may pass through these waters each year.
Regulations have been put in place in the Atlantic since the 1990s to protect them from fishing.
“There is an overall increase in population, which we think is a rebound after (…) very high levels of over-exploitation,” he explained to AFP, even if it remains difficult to give a precise estimate. exact number of them.
In addition, great whites tend to swim closer and closer to shore to hunt one of their favorite prey: seals. They are also protected and their numbers are increasing.
The result: more sharks, venturing closer to the swimming area.
“Shark attacks are rare, but over the last ten years we have seen more attacks by them,” said Gregory Skomal.
In New York state, the governor just announced additional surveillance patrols, including by drone or helicopter.
On Long Island’s tourist beaches, several shark bites have been reported – great whites are not necessarily responsible, several other species are growing in the area, especially sharks tiger and bull shark.
The number of these attacks is unusual, after three years without any attacks.
According to Gavin Naylor, director of a shark research program at the University of Florida, this is linked to an increased occurrence this year of certain predatory fish, possibly due to warm flow.
But if things locally can vary greatly from year to year, on a global level around 75 shark attacks are still recorded each year – after dropping to around 60 in two. pandemic year. The death toll is about five people.
In the past 20 years, only two deaths have been reported in northern Delaware of the United States, in Cape Cod in 2018 and in Maine in 2020.
But in the future, it is conceivable that the number of victims will increase. “There are more great whites, so the probability goes up. (…) There will be more bites,” summarized Gavin Naylor. Currently, the observed general variations are not statistically significant, he said.
Surfers, who venture into deeper water, account for half of all unprovoked attacks in 2021. Farther south, Florida, with its many tourist beaches and tropical climate, remains in focus. 60% of attacks by Americans – and almost 40% of global attacks.
Sharks are a far cry from the bloodthirsty beasts sometimes depicted in movies. Studies have shown that they can mistake surfers or swimmers for their usual prey – especially great white sharks, which have rather poor eyesight.
“With so many people in the water around the world, if sharks were to eat human prey, we would have tens of thousands of attacks a year,” said Gregory Skomal.
With climate change, experts expect that an increase in ocean temperatures will gradually prolong the shark’s presence in the northern United States.
So what can be done to reduce the risk?
An app exists where people can report seeing a shark.
New England Aquarium scientist Nick Whitney advises “look around you in the water”. If a large number of birds are hunting fish, “that could mean that the sharks that eat them are also present”.
And if bitten, the real danger is bleeding, so it’s important to get to shore and control the blood until help arrives.