Apparently shark numbers just off shore are increasing despite the fact that their overall population is shrinking. Recently more sharks have been spotted off the east coast of America, coincidentally the next location for the film Sharknado. The first SyFy film was in Los Angeles and the sequel is to take place in New York, is there a connection?
As a nation we’ve been shark obsessed since Steven Spielberg made the iconic 1976 film Jaws. Since then our awareness of these “killers of the deep” has increased exponentially. The fact that sharks, especially the great white shark, are almost perfect killing machines makes them the ideal screen villain.
Discovery Channel have recognised this increased public interest in the creatures, possibly triggered by the recent Twitter frenzy that was sparked off by SyFy’s Sharknado, and they’re celebrating by airing their annual Shark Week. Starting on August 26, the series is titled Sharkpocalypse and it will be visiting the swimming “bad guys” of the deep and talk to experts who study these fascinating creatures.
Executive producer Joe Schneier says of the series, “The thesis of Sharkpocalypse is that shark populations worldwide are at an all-time low, and yet shark attacks are up. We tried to figure out if there was a connection.”
According to George Burgess, a Florida researcher and curator of the International Shark Attack File, “Shark sightings are on the rise as human populations increase and move closer to habitats long occupied by sharks.” The Shark Attack File collects the details of shark and human incidents worldwide. According to Burgess the incidents are rising despite the shrinking number of sharks across the planets waters.
Burgess thinks the reason stems from the increased presence of people in the water. He says, “More people are entering the sea and putting themselves in the water closer to where the sharks are. As a result, there are more eyes where the sharks are and a lot more people looking for sharks.”
It also appears that overfishing is another culprit adding to the increased coastal sightings. Between the diminished food supply and the sharks natural habitat being destroyed, they are moving closer to land to feed, Burgess says.
He also points out the apart from the great white shark’s increased sightings, in Florida sightings of the great hammerhead shark have risen. The hammerhead shark traditionally stays far away from coastal waters and the shoreline, despite this, their presence has increased over the last two years. The are often seen trailing fishing boats hoping to have a snack.
The increased numbers reported along the east coast seaboard may have a connection to the SyFy Sharknado Twitter frenzy, although New York hasn’t been specifically mentioned in any of the sightings. But the increased awareness of sharks will crank up a notch or two when the Discovery Channel’s special Sharkpolypse airs on the 26th.
Deadly shark attacks are still a rare occurrence but the rate of the incidents has risen over the past 100 years. Although the numbers of these attacks do vary yearly. For example in 1999 there were only four people who died from shark attacks across the globe. In 2011 the number of deadly incidents lept to 13 and in 2012 it dropped down to just seven.
Burgess says that there has been a noticeable increase in great white shark numbers off the coast of Massachusetts. He opines that the increased number is connected to the resurgence of the seal population.
Another shark expert, Greg Skomal, who works at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, says that the increasing numbers of sharks being spotted around Cape Cod and other New England shores show a significant change in the animals’ behavior. Skomal says, “In Massachusetts, we’re seeing a change in habitat. Great whites are moving closer to shore to get to seals, and so more people are seeing them.”
In 2012, Massachusetts had their first shark attack since 1936 a male tourist from Colorado was attacked while he body surfed with his son off Cape Cod. The man wasn’t killed by the shark, but the effect on the citizens of area were shocked and as a result shark sightings increased. By the year’s end, over 20 shark sightings were reported.
Scheiner says that the nation’s fascination with sharks comes from what the creatures mean to popular culture. He says, “It’s an animal shrouded in mystery, but very few of us will ever see one in the flesh. It’s part of the great sphere of the unknown.”
Of course films like SyFy’s Sharknado also have a connection with the increased number and sightings of sharks off the east coast, regardless of the fact that the sequel will take place in New York. Because each time a new shark feature is released people’s awareness becomes more acute, hence more sightings. So the connection between the SyFy show and the “increased numbers” really does make sense. Shark week starts on August 26 on the Discovery Channel.
By Michael Smith