More people and better technology means that our finned friends are usually close by when we’re in the water.
By Jake Howard
Before we dive into this, let’s get one thing straight, the ocean is where sharks live. I know, revelatory. But what that means is that we shouldn’t be surprised, stunned or scared when we see one, because, yeah, sharks live in the ocean just like bears live in the woods.
Encounters with sharks are on the rise for a number of reason. For starters, there are more Americans living close to the coast than ever before. According a recent Axios report, who pulled data from the International Shark Attack File, Nature and the U.S. Census, there are approximately 125 million people living at the beach. This is more than any other time in recent history.
The same report points to the decline in sustainable fishing practices, which are driving sharks closer to shore in search of food. In both cases, this is a human problem, not a shark problem.
“Many shark species have been overfished, in fact on average we are killing 11,000 sharks per hour,” explains Danielle Haulsee, the Chief Science Officer at Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute. “Healthy ocean ecosystems depend on healthy shark populations.”
According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 47 unprovoked shark attacks in the United States in 2021, the last year they offer statistics for. That’s nearly double any other single year going back to 1960. Of that 47 attacks in 2021, an eye-popping 18 of them were in Florida.
One modern tool that is being used to keep sharks and people safe is the use of drones along especially sharky areas. For example, in the state of New York drones are being used to verify shark sightings and respond accordingly.
“We’ll have routine patrol during the day, but if there’s a sighting, we’ll get the drone up right away and have them look over the waters to see what the report is,” said George Gorman Jr., regional director at the New York State Office of Parks, in a separate Axios report.
The practice was pioneered by Australian lifeguard agencies. Having that extra eye in the sky has likely prevented numerous shark/human encounters there. There’s still another solid month of summer left here in the U.S., and with temperatures around the country breaking records, more folks are heading to the beach for a break from the heat (unless you’re in parts of Florida, where water temps have topped 100 degrees). If you’re in the water, be aware of your surroundings, keep an eye out for any disturbances on the surface, and if you see a shark, appreciate it for the incredible apex predator that it’s evolved into over millions of years.
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