The Dramatic Spike in The Shark Population Over the Past 50 Years
Clip from NBC discussing dramatic spike in the shark population (featuring some of our own Beachlex employees!)
Since the late twentieth century, the shark population off of the coast of the Cape and the Islands has skyrocketed. As more and more sharks inhabit the waters, beachgoers have been unable to swim at oceanside beaches. For years now, there have been warnings at the entrances of beaches telling swimmers and surfers to be aware of their surroundings and to look out for sharks. Only in recent years have these warnings been enforced, as the risk has increased dramatically.
Check out this news clip from NBC from August 2019 (also above). On this day, I was at the Beachcomber with family friends and it was very heavily emphasized that we should stay out of the water. In the video, you can see me standing with those family friends, as the mother tells the reporters that “she is afraid to go in the water."
And there is a very good reason to be afraid. Download the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's App, “Sharktivity” to see for yourself. Every single day, more and more sharks are detected using the app. The total amount of sharks is insane! Check out the year view, and you can see sharks plotted everywhere, up and down the coast. Although it is unlikely that you will be the victim of a shark attack, it is becoming increasingly likely that you will come into contact with a shark while swimming. Please, be safe and pay attention to your surroundings.
In 2018, Massachusetts saw its first fatal shark attack since 1936, when 26-year-old Arthur Medici was killed at Wellfleet’s Newcomb Hollow Beach while boogie boarding. That same summer, another swimmer was severely injured after he was bitten by a great white while swimming at a Truro beach. As a result, the state had to brainstorm and implement new safety measures, including emergency 911 call boxes on remote beaches where cell service is less reliable. Also, a “Stop the Bleed” training program was made mandatory for all of the lifeguards on Cape Cod’s public beaches.
However, this still isn’t enough! The Coronavirus has made it so that even less lifeguards were hired this year. This leaves beachgoers with an increased risk of being in danger. Swimming is not recommended at any of these shark-infested coastal beaches. So, this leaves us with the question: What is there to blame for this dramatic increase in the shark population?
Why has the Shark Population Increased So Much?
Well, the first thing to blame is seals. In 1983, the European Union banned the importation of seal pup products. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. It is important to preserve and protect the diverse ecosystem of life that exists in our oceans today. However, sharks prey on seals. They prey on anything that looks like a seal. This can be a danger to humans as well, since the underside of a person on a surfboard may look like a seal to a shark. Since sharks explore with their mouths, this could even be fatal.
More seals mean more sharks. As far as the food chain goes, the population increase of a lower level leads to a larger food source for an upper level, in turn leading to a population increase in that upper level. Since the hunting of seals is no longer allowed, this upward population trend will continue, increasing the risk of sharks at public beaches.
The next thing to blame is Climate Change. “The increase in attacks—59 last year, up from 31 in 2011—is connected to climate change, experts say. According to a study by Progress in Oceanography, climate change is pushing sharks and other marine species northward. At the same time, warm weather means people are more likely to go swimming, a potentially fatal combination.”
The warmer weather is forcing the shark population into unusual environments. Remember, humans have contributed greatly to climate change. It's our fault. We have to remember that the ocean is their home, not ours. Measures need to be put in place so that we can reverse the damaging effects of climate change and allow sharks (along with other sea creatures) to return to their natural habitats.
What Can We Do?
For the time being, there is not much that we can do. Unless if we implement some measures to get sharks back to their natural habitats and away from the coast line, it will be very difficult to get our beaches back. Hopefully, there are some temporary solutions down the road, but we also need to focus on saving our planet from global warming in order to obtain a permanent solution to the problem. Of course, President Trump’s decision to quit the Paris Climate Agreement is taking us in the opposite direction. We need to take action now in order to have any chance of preserving our planet for future generations. And, if we ever want to go swimming on the beaches of Cape Cod again, it is imperative that we take climate change seriously and come up with sustainable solutions to divert the shark population off of the shores of the Cape.
Please check out these sources for more information: