By Erin Delmore
“We are experiencing warmer temperatures than normal in the last several years and this probably allows for more sharks to move a little bit further north than they normally would,” said Dr. Ken Able, director of the Rutgers University Marine Field Station.
Some experts are predicting a record year for shark sightings along New Jersey’s coast after 2015 pulled in startling stats on brushes with the beasts.
Six people were killed by sharks last year worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack File. There were 98 confirmed incidents — 26 more than the year before. In fact, last year’s numbers blew the previous record out of the water.
Marie Levine curates another database — the Global Shark Attack File. While they get their information from different sources — and have different stats — the trend still holds.
“Of course there’s a bit of a rise simply because more and more people are reporting and more and more people are in the water,” Levine said.
That one factor — rising ocean temperatures — cuts two ways. More people are hitting the shore to catch a wave, increasing the odds of a chance encounter. And more sharks are making their way north, even as far as New Jersey. Mary Lee, the tagged great white, is the school’s shining star. She’s still making waves in the Atlantic and on social media. She’s the best-known shark since Jaws. Levine says after the novel and film’s success the Jaws writer worked to combat the misconception that humans are on the menu.
“Peter Benchley was one of our strongest supporters and a longtime member and he was really surprised. He said people did not, or, didn’t they realize they bought my book in the fiction section?” Levine said.
“The last time there was a fatal shark attack in New Jersey was 100 years ago. Somebody could be bitten, but I’d rather take my chances on a New Jersey beach than on the New Jersey Turnpike at rush hour,” Able said.
Our experts said after a warm winter, it is likely we’ll see more sharks but it’s just too soon to tell. A better concern: whether there are enough sharks in our oceans. They keep the ecosystem stable by eating the weak — fish, that is.