Summers here in New England bring a few things for shark lovers – ‘summertime blues’ off of the Rhode Island coast, Discovery’s ‘Shark Week’ of course, and in recent years…the Great White, making JAWS a reality.
With great white sightings off of Cape Cod making national news headlines, I often field inquiries about my own experiences with sharks while diving. In the tropics, with clear water, sharks can be seen as a fairly common occurrence. I’ve spent enough time there to encounter numerous species – reefs, lemons, nurses, bulls, hammerheads, and others. Each has its own unique set of behaviors, and each interacts with humans just a little differently.
Now, of course, I’ve spent far more time diving here in New England, and while I have seen sharks here, it is a far rarer occurrence. Does this reflect the numbers in the local population? or the fact that they are more difficult to ‘see’. The population consideration may be a factor, but the latter – visibility – quite likely trumps the rest. Here in colder North Atlantic waters visibility through and in the water can be limited due to turbidity and other environmental factors.Frankly, if its dark, its harder to see. The sharks are there – that is for certain.
Our recent excitement about the Great White sightings around Cape Cod is indeed great press for our toothy friends – ideally it will stay in a positive light, however of course better understanding their movement patterns is critical in ensuring human safety. The ability to observe these more frequently and closely is due to heightened investments into overflights and improved camera technologies. They have indeed been there right along at some scale.
These are not man eaters, however are indeed wild animals, and very large predators on this planet. We must exercise the same cautions that we would on a safari – observe from a distance, and respect the animal in its natural habitat.
So, don’t be afraid, but use common sense, show respect for these creatures – as they are critical for our own survival here on the Blue Planet, and remember to not fall victim to the ‘seeing is believing’ mantra. Just because these sharks are out of sight, does not mean they should be out of mind.