Historically beachgoers in the Northeast didn’t have to worry about sharks in the water but climate change may soon change this. As NJ.com explained, “while sharks off the Jersey Shore are nothing new, experts who study the ocean predators say New Jersey’s waters are becoming an increasingly popular destination for unlikely species of sharks. Ocean-warming climate change is already bringing sharks typically found in southern waters, like bull sharks and blacktip sharks, to New Jersey on a more frequent basis.” While this doesn’t mean that there will be more sharks overall, it does mean that climate change might cause a bigger overlap of where sharks hunt and breed with the beaches where humans like to swim.
A Growing Trend: As Malin Pinsky, an associate professor in Rutgers’ Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources told The Daily Beast, “There’s an astounding mass migration of animal life towards the poles.” Which means that predators like sharks will continue to migrate to where they can find food and safely breed.
The History: Regardless of recent headlines, shark attacks along the Northeast are still rare. As Forbes explained, “since 1837, there have been only 12 unprovoked shark bites on humans in New York State, according to the International Shark Attack File; New Jersey has had 15.”
Summer 2019: New Jersey beachgoers have had sharks on their mind since Miss May (sounds like a Jersey Shore cast member) an 800-pound, 10-foot shark was tracked swimming off the New Jersey coast right around the 4th of July holiday. Miss May was tagged by oceanographers in February in Mayport, Florida which demonstrates the distances white sharks are swimming along the east coast. After a staggering 11 great white sharks were spotted on Cape Cod Bay this summer, it became more evident that not only climate change but conservation practices were bringing sharks to new places. On the east coast, the protection of the grey seal under 1972’s Marine Mammal Protection Act has allowed the animal to thrive as a food source for white sharks.
Why This Matters: While we may fear sharks, it’s them that should be afraid of us. Human-induced climate change is having a devastating impact on our oceans and along with overfishing, we’re pushing sharks to the brink and changing many of their intuitive behaviors as they adapt to the mess we’ve created. In fact, research has shown that warming ocean waters can even affect how juvenile sharks swim and hunt for food, making them “right-handed.”