Cleaner Ocean Waters Have Brought More Sharks to the New York Coast, Experts Say

Their presence has noticeably increased from 10 years ago.

New Yorkers might be spotting more fins cresting the water's surface, but it's probably a positive sign for the environment.

According to experts, more shark spottings off the Long Island coast are linked to cleaner oceans, among other factors. Newsday reports that warmer water temperatures and a newfound abundance of bunker fish (which sharks feed on) are also partially responsible for the predators' increasing numbers. Meanwhile, handy tech—like drones and helicopters—makes spotting them much easier.

Shark sightings off New York's coast have spiked in recent years. "There are a lot more sharks than 10 or 15 years ago," the manager of Stony Brook University's Marine Sciences Center, Christopher Paparo, told Newsday. "We're spotting sharks, whales, and dolphins here. In the 1960s, we did not have sharks, whales, and dolphins."

The presence of small sharks closer to shore benefits the ecosystem, too. They help get rid of prey species through hunting, and some of them are scavenger sharks, which are helpful in keeping the ocean cleaner. The new shark abundance, according to experts, is a sign that the ocean's ecological balance is slowly restoring.

Yet, knowing more sharks are making the Long Island coast their temporary home can be scary, especially for swimmers and lifeguards. In the last two weeks, two lifeguards were injured from shark bites. Following the latest attack on Sunday, Smith Point and Cupsogue beaches in Suffolk County were forced to close, Eyewitness News reports.

Experts are telling swimmers and beach fans not to worry. In this area, encountering a shark at sea is still considered very rare, said Hans Walters, a New York Aquarium shark biologist.

According to the records by the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File, 47 people were bitten in 2021 across the United States. That's a 42% increase from 2020, where 33 people were bitten in the country. Walters says that despite the increase, no evidence leads experts to think that swimmers are more at risk than the previous years.

The presence of lifeguards and their equipment surely helps. In fact, lifeguards can scan the surface for fins with their binoculars, and are able to prevent attacks and evacuate the waters in case of sightings.

So far, none of the shark bites reported this year in the United States have been deadly.

"We are more in tune to sharks than ever before," Walters told Eyewitness News. "And I think that's a bigger issue than an actual increase in incidents or an actual increase in the number of sharks."

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.