Sharks Are Spotted Off Long Island. Scientists Say Don’t Panic.

Sharks Are Spotted Off Long Island. Scientists Say Don’t Panic.
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Sharks Are Spotted Off Long Island. Scientists Say Don’t Panic.

Sharks Are Spotted Off Long Island. Scientists Say Don’t Panic.

Police helicopters sweeping the waves for dorsal fins. Bathers striding along the beaches, waiting for the green light to return to the water. A mysterious bite on the leg of a rescuer.

Along New York’s Long Island beaches, a handful of shark sightings over the past week have prompted local authorities to briefly close several beaches, hold oceanfront press conferences, and send police on “shark patrol” on boats and jet skis.

But as the atmosphere of anxiety carries a whiff of the 1970s blockbuster “Jaws” – in which a fictional Long Island mayor conceals the threat of a giant shark with a scientifically unlikely grudge against humans, with effect disastrous – scientists point out that there is no increased danger to swimmers.

In fact, they say, more sharks have been seen mainly because more people are looking for them – including municipal shark patrols which expanded after a possible rare case of a shark bite on Fire Island in 2018 – and they more easily save and share images. .

“We have a mantra: there are more people seeing sharks because there are more people, with more smartphones, drones and social media,” said Hans Walters, a field scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society which has studied sharks in the area for a decade. .

The nervousness began on Monday, when a lifeguard at Jones Beach on Long Island felt something hit him while he was swimming and came out of the water with a cut in his calf. The next day, a shark sighting was reported there, prompting the authorities to suspend swimming for a few hours. Sightings were reported in Long Beach and Lido Beach on Wednesday, and further reports of sharks on Thursday resulted in closures.

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Nassau County Leader Laura Curran said she was increasing shark patrols “out of caution”, urging residents to “stay calm, use common sense and follow the instructions of rescuers.”

Some experts find themselves in a sticky position: they don’t want to demean anxious swimmers or local politicians, but they also doubt shark patrols are effective or necessary and fear the hype will fuel unwarranted shark terror. .

“The shark doesn’t want to eat you,” said Christopher Paparo, a naturalist who runs a marine lab at Stony Brook University. “We are not on this menu. But it’s difficult – you don’t want to be the city councilor who says “Ah, don’t worry” and then God forbid, a very rare event occurs. You don’t want to be the mayor of “Jaws”.

More than 20 species of sharks have historically been in the waters off New York and New Jersey, Walters said, adding, “The risk of someone biting a human is infinitesimal.

People are more likely to be killed in a car crash on their way to the beach – or even while toasting – than by a shark, Paparo noted.

While shark numbers have been on the rise in waters off New York and New Jersey lately – a point of controversy among experts, who say some species are rebounding and others newly threatened – Mr Paparo said it would be a good thing. This would show that the animals are recovering from pollution and overfishing that have reduced the world’s shark population by 70 percent since 1970.

Sharks, whales and other species are benefiting from the return of schools of fish called menhaden, which are key prey for larger animals, Paparo said.

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“We need sharks,” he added. “It shows a healthy ecosystem. We need top predators as much as we need menhaden. But this is not a selling story. People want the story of the shark attack.

Another factor, he said, is that with the waters warming by climate change, some species once rarely seen in northern southern New Jersey are now spotted more often around Long Island.

Experts offered a safety tip: Avoid swimming near large schools of baitfish, feeding birds, or rough water.

It didn’t help, the scientists said, that the recent spate of sightings came just after Shark Week, a garish programming blitz that annoys scientists so much that the Wildlife Conservation Society released a to-do list. do’s and don’ts for the media. reduce the sensationalism in the coverage of sharks.

“Sharks are not stupid eating machines,” he stresses. Another wisdom: “The most dangerous animal in the ocean: humans.

“By the way, I’m a big ‘Jaws’ apologist,” Walters said. “It’s a great movie. But it’s not a scientific treatise on sharks, and it wasn’t meant to be.

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