Shark Sightings Increase: Is it Dangerous for Beachgoers?

By Erin Cassidy
7/20/2013 9:47:48 AM

Ever since "Jaws" premiered in 1975, beachgoers have been gripped with fears of spotting a tell-tale fin above the open water. Although there haven't been any recent fatal shark attacks in U.S., there are between 50 to 100 shark attacks per year globally. With the number of shark sightings in the United States increasing, especially in the New England area, it's important to be aware of potential shark sightings and how to best handle an encounter.

According to Greg Skomal, a Shark Specialist at the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries, when sharks approach humans, they aren't necessarily pre-conceived "attacks" but rather a case of mistaken identity. From a shark's perspective, a surfer floating on their boards in a dark wet suit could easily be mistaken for a seal.

Photo by: Flickr user hermanusbackpackers

But while fatalities are rare, shark sightings are becoming more common in the New England area due to the rising seal populations. A result of environmental protections the area has provided for seals, their numbers are higher than ever. Naturally, the number of shark sightings are also increasing with the high availability of food. Skomal commented, "The actual number of sharks hasn't changed from year to year, there is just more and more of them coming to shore so the sightings are going up."

A lifeguard station with hazard flags raised. Photo by: Flickr user arturodonate

Regardless of their cause, it is important to understand and heed shark warnings when visiting beaches. In the United States, there is usually about one shark sighting per day during the summer season. Wyatt Werneth, Spokesman for the American Lifeguard Association, explained that when a blue flag is raised at the beach, it means that marine life was spotted in the water. When a red flag is raised, it means the marine life was likely a shark and the area should be avoided. When these flags are raised, Wyatt recommends that people exit the water calmly, "You don't want to splash and make a sudden rush to the shoreline and panic. If a shark is sighted, get out of the water."

To make the most of your beach vacation, remember to stay alert of any marine life. "Realize that humans are land animals and anytime we go into the ocean we are challenging ourselves," Skomal said. "It's a wild environment."