Be grateful we're seeing more sharp-toothed sharks.
Since the start of summer, lifeguards and beach officials at New York beaches this year have noted a significant uptick in shark sightings off the coast of New York. And although that may be sound like startling news, it’s an occurrence that experts are attributing to positive happenings like cleaner oceans, warmer waters, and abundance of bunker fish, aka catnip for sharks.
“There are a lot more sharks than 10 or 15 years ago,” Christopher Paparo, manager of Stony Brook University’s Marine Sciences Center, told . Paparo added that his team has spotted not only sharks but several whales and dolphins too, which would have been unheard of just a few decades ago.
Chris Stefanou, a Long Island fisherman who participates in a federal shark-tagging program, echoed this sentiment, telling , “There are more and more sharks in the water, which sounds scary…but it’s actually a good thing because it reflects a healthy ecosystem.”
One more reason officials may be spotting more sharks? Technology. reported that area lifeguards are stepping up their game following recent sightings, including more shark patrols via boat, helicopter, and jet skis. At both New York's Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park, the patrols now include seven new drones operated by 20 lifeguards and beach staff members who use them as part of the aerial shark-monitoring program.
"It's like a new world we're living in," Cary Epstein, a lifeguard at Jones Beach, shared with . "In my 25 years as a lifeguard, we never had to do this."
And although the potential increase in the shark population may seem daunting, it really is happy news as sharks are known as a “keystone species,” which is one with an outsized effect on its ecosystem. Without sharks, explains, smaller species sharks feed on would see a population boom, which would cause even smaller species to get gobbled up in a vicious cycle that could be an extinction-level event for the oceans.
"If the sharks disappear, the little fish explode in population because nothing's eating them," Toby Daly-Engel, an assistant professor in the marine science department and director of the Shark Conservation Lab at Florida Tech, told . "Pretty soon, their food — plankton, microorganisms, little shrimps — all of that is gone, so all the little fish ultimately starve."
In turn, Daly-Engel explained, the algae and bacteria would move to the coral, covering it, and ultimately killing it. Right now, this reality isn’t too far off. The World Wildlife Fund notes, 17 out of the 39 pelagic shark species are threatened with extinction.
And one more thing to note: Sharks, no matter how big or scary looking, truly want very little to do with you. If they had it their way, they'd rather swim around and never bump into a human for as long as they live. Shark attacks off the coast of New York are exceedingly rare, so don't be too fearful. Maybe just be more aware of your surroundings, and thank a lifeguard while you're at it.