Shore Sharks: You’re Safer Than You Think
Sep 24, 2021
Shore Sharks: You’re Safer Than You Think
Submitted by Mike Hudson and Robert Heyer
Just mention the shark on any beach and you’ll instantly get everyone’s attention. People have a curious fascination and an almost unreasonable fear of sharks. Most beach goers know at least one version of the 1916 shark attack story. Many would argue that this is where Peter Benchley was inspired to write his 1974 book “Jaws”. Many do not know exactly where and in what year the fatal attacks occurred; they even categorically say that shark attacks in New Jersey happen “all the time.” The bottom line is that most beachgoers admit to being at least a little scared of sharks on the Jersey Shore. But how justifiable is this fear?
Let’s start with a few facts and then take a look at how local lifeguards at Sea Bright are using shark science to predict behavior to protect the public when sharks are spotted along the beach.
The NJSAF enables factual conclusions about shark danger using years of shark attack investigations. Here are some conclusions drawn from historical accounts of attacks based on information from interviews with swimmers, surfers, clams, fishermen, beach goers and biologists who have first witnessed sharks’ predatory behavior.
1. First of all, the risks of a shark attack are extremely rare. Millions of people enter New York and New Jersey waters every year without incident. The chances of having a negative encounter with a shark are so low that they are almost impossible to measure.
2. Just over 100 recorded incidents were investigated for New York and New Jersey waters. This represents 100 incidents since the late 1900s among the hundreds of thousands of people who entered the Atlantic each summer. The likelihood of encountering a shark is ultra-tiny, and there is even less likelihood of being attacked.
3. The majority of shark incidents recorded in New Jersey were the result of human actions that directly or indirectly triggered natural responses of various shark species. This is the case with the first recorded shark attack in New Jersey in 1842. A group of boys were catching clams on apartments in Absecon Bay when they spotted a large shark that had been trapped in the waters. shallow at low tide. One of the boys started hitting him with an oar and the shark pounced on the attackers in defense. The boy fell as he turned to run and was grabbed by the shark, resulting in a horribly mutilated leg. The other boys killed the shark.
So what kind of sharks inhabit the waters of New York and New Jersey? Our waters are home to several species. The vast majority belong to the classification of non-âman-eatersâ – submissive, harmless, and completely harmless predators to humans. These mostly harmless species found in New Jersey include the spiny dogfish and shark’s closest cousins, the cow-nosed stingray, and the lesser common stingray.
Sharks considered potentially dangerous must be large enough and have the right type of teeth to cause damage. Some of the dangerous sharks that patrol the Mid-Atlantic region, from least likely to most likely, are tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, great white sharks, bull sharks, as well as the largest and most likely to attack. when provoked, the Sand Tiger Shark. All of them have the reputation of being potentially dangerous for humans.
Sharks are an important part of our ecosystem. They are much more threatened with extinction by our activities than we are by theirs. As top predators, sharks keep their prey species fit and healthy. Shark sightings have increased, but interaction reports are mostly zero. As the quality of our water continues to improve, we can expect to see more sharks, which is actually good news for our oceans. The presence of a healthy and diverse population of prey and sharks is an excellent indicator of the prosperity of our marine ecosystem.
Lifeguard shark sightings as well as civilian shark sightings are on the rise this year across New York and New Jersey, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting out of the water, as long as you use your common sense and resist. the urge to take a closer look at anomalies in the water, such as an injured sea turtle or a large bait ball.
Each summer, Ocean and River Lifeguards at Sea Bright see beachgoers enter the water to take a closer look at the common phenomenon known as the ‘bait ball’. This is when thousands of fish traveling together often arrive within feet of shore. These fish are pursued by a number of advanced predators, including sharks. Humans chasing bait balls can lead to a trip to the emergency room. Any apex predators hunting prey or actively feeding will instinctively attack anything they believe to be food or competition for food. If people stay out of the water when large schools of fish are attacked, the probability of being bitten drops to zero. When rescuers spot a bait ball moving in a swimming area, they wash off the water until the fish have cleared the shore.
The highlight is that sharks are some of nature’s best risk managers. Based on studies, it’s safe to say that sharks view human interaction as a major personal risk, not a potential food source. Most human interactions or reports involving sharks are not fatal or do not involve sharks at all. The vast majority of shark sightings in Monmouth County are, in fact, mistaken identity. These are often dolphins or large pelagic fish like the Sun Fish or the Sail Fish that mate or sunbathe on the surface of the water. The only solid evidence of non-fatal incidents with sharks in New Jersey is (probably) sand tigers. There is also strong evidence from the 1800s involving non-fatal bull shark attacks in the Navesink estuary. There are so few recorded shark incidents in our region.
How can you avoid interaction with an aquatic apex predator?
1. To begin with, swim only on supervised beaches. At Sea Bright, the city’s lifeguard division has developed shark incident protocols, rescue techniques and risk mitigation procedures approved by the NJSAF and approved by biologists from the Miami Shark Lab, Bimini Shark Lab and professional white shark researchers from New York and Cape Cod.
2. Stay out of the water when large schools of fish are present, especially when jumping out of the water. Jumping indicates that they are being chased by predators.
3. If you see a fin moving on the water, get out and report the sighting to the nearest rescuer or public safety official. Wait at least 20 minutes to go back. Rescuers will clean up the water until the threat has cleared away and notify nearby lifeguard services of the potential direction of travel.
4. Do not bring plastic water bottles into the water. The sound of a squeezed plastic bottle is believed to mimic the sound of bones cracking during feeding, essentially a shark dinner bell. Squeezing an empty water bottle is a proven technique used by Shark Week divers to attract sharks.
5. Avoid swimming alone during known predator feeding times, early in the morning and in the evening before sunset.
6. If you encounter a sick or injured shark in shallow water or on land, leave it alone and report its location.
7. If you have no immediate escape and see a shark swimming towards you, do the same: swim aggressively towards it. Almost 100 percent of the time, even the largest shark will go wrong if anything over 100 pounds swims towards it. Keep in mind that as excellent risk managers, sharks above all want to avoid potential conflicts with other leading predators, including humans.
Beach towns are reluctant to even mention the word “shark” for fear of scaring tourists off. It might be wise to celebrate our sharks with well-planned events like shark festivals and Shark Week related events that can educate water lovers on how to share the ocean’s resources with these magnificent animals in complete safety.
If you asked us “Should I be worried about sharks?” our answer would be a unified no, but that does not negate the risks of future negative encounters. With so many people enjoying the water and an increasing number of sharks, future incidents could arise at any time. Swim only on protected beaches and be aware of nature. Realize that you are a guest in the shark house, so respect the animal and use common sense. If you happen to see a shark in its natural environment, admire it from the shore and consider yourself extremely lucky as you have just seen one of nature’s oldest and most efficient predators that do has neither a need nor a natural instinct to interact with humans.
Mike Hudson is the head lifeguard for Sea Bright Ocean Rescue. In the winter, he works as a senior paramedic and rescue diver for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. He has over 18 years of experience working with large sharks in open water, and he’s still alive and so far unharmed.
Robert Heyer has worked for over 25 years as the coordinator and lead investigator of the New Jersey Shark Attack File, which documents all known shark attacks in the Garden State. He has published two books, “The New Jersey Shark Attack File” and “New York Shark Attack File”.