The increased number of shark sightings this summer along the East Coast has been putting beachgoers at risk, and researchers believe they have a reason for the lurking uptick.
Chris Fischer, expedition leader at OCEARCH, says that a return of a popular bait fish is the reason for more shark sightings along the coast.
"The real increase in shark sightings is because of the return of the bunker," Fischer tells FOX Weather.
Bunker or menhaden are bait fish rich in oil, and they swim in large schools close to the water's surface during the spring, summer, and fall.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that these fish play an essential role in the marine ecosystem.
"They constitute the largest landings, by volume, along the Atlantic Coast of the United States," NOAA explains. "Menhaden are harvested for use as fertilizers, animal feed, and bait for fisheries."
Fischer says that almost everything in the ocean likes to eat menhaden, specifically sharks.
"The way the sharks hunt menhaden is that they push them up against the beach," he said. "They crowd them against the beach, and then they start to take turns darting through them to feed."
And crowding the fish along the beach means more shark sightings, especially during feeding.
"It's kind of heightening how many more sharks people are seeing because the sharks aren't spread out wandering around feeding. They're really just using this crowding method against the beach," Fischer explains.
Good news behind recent shark sightings
Bradley Peterson, a professor of marine science at Stony Brook University, told FOX Weather that the sightings could be the result of conservation work.
"I think what you’re seeing is the result of some really excellent resource management strategies that have increased not only the shark populations somewhat modestly but also their prey. So this is really a success story for conservation in the ocean, going along the south shore of Long Island," Peterson said.
Peterson suggests avoiding getting in the ocean during the early morning or late evening and staying clear of schools of fish.
"When you see these bunker schools move by, you may just want to, you know, step out of the water and enjoy the view as they go by and then go back in because those sharks are only going to be attracted to their food," Peterson said. "They’re there to feed on the bunker. If they bite you, it’s by accident because they were going after fish."
Shark attack trends
In the past nine years, less than 60 shark bites have been reported each year in the U.S., according to the file. Overall, the coast-to-coast trend during that time has declined, but there was a noticeable increase in bites in 2021.
According to the data, most bites are not fatal, with just eight fatal bites in the past nine years.
In Florida, where most U.S. shark attacks have been reported, no fatalities have occurred. The state averages about 29 shark bites a year.
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