Are sharks showing up more often in proximity of popular beaches? It depends on whom you ask, where you ask and when you ask.
It does seem as if sightings are more common. Several New England beaches have been closed this summer, even as most Cape Cod business people say the tourist season is thriving as much as ever.
If there is a drop in business, they say, it’s more likely been caused by tornadoes or a new tax that upped the price of short-term rentals by as much as 14 percent.
Some observers, though, say sharks are indeed making their presence known more frequently these days. Marine biologists say the legendary great white shark has become more active due to a comeback by the seal population, which is under federal protection.
Shark researcher Greg Skomal told CBS News that sharks are following the food, which is close to shore — as are people. One result of “shark awareness” is the increased construction of swimming pools on Cape Cod.
More than 10 sightings were reported during a two-day period on Cape Cod last week. Shark reports are not limited to New England.
In recent weeks, a surfer was bitten in Florida. A North Carolina fisherman was attacked by a blacktip shark, which experts say is more likely than great whites to bite humans because they mistake hands or feet for fish.
It’s hard to gather accurate numbers on sharks, since the same creature could be spotted several times. Skomal, an acknowledged research leader, has tagged 15 sharks off Cape Cod this year.
In 2016, 107 people worldwide were bitten by sharks. Eight died. The 107 figure does not seem overwhelming at first glance, but it represented a new record.
While marine biologists disagree on whether there are more sharks in the water, everyone agrees that there are more people in the water. This increases the odds of an encounter.
The good news is that the chance of being bitten by a shark remains microscopic. Studies find that an ocean swimmer has one chance in 738 million of being bitten by a great white shark. Surfers have a one in 17 million chance. Scuba divers are one in 136 million.
Authorities still waste no time in clearing beaches. The newsworthy nature of these events — coupled with the haunting sound track in the minds of anyone who saw the movie “Jaws” — has tourists and officials aware of their ocean neighbors.
Some experts say 2019 will be an average year for shark encounters, and that globally, incidents of attacks are decreasing.
“You’re more likely to die taking a selfie than being bitten by a shark. The odds are crazy,” said Tyler Bowling, manager of the Florida Program for Shark Research. But any ocean swimmer — or middle-aged moviegoer — will attest that it only takes one to remind tourists to keep safety in mind.
— The Republican, Springfield, Mass.