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Researchers say sharks need more monitoring as their population declines

A shark is seen swimming across a sand bar.
Phil Marcelo
A shark is seen swimming across a sand bar.

Scientists said new evidence about shark biology, their prey and ecosystem changes in New York coastal waters indicates the need to monitor shark behavior and collect seasonal data.

A study, published in the Journal of Fish Biology, shows a recent increase in the number of human-shark encounters in the New York Bight, between New Jersey and the south shore of Long Island. That’s despite a well-documented decline in the shark population due to overfishing and climate change.

“Fundamentally, we are aiming to understand how sharks are interacting with their environment and how that’s going to potentially impact where we find animals and what their ecological role is going to be, you know, over the next 50 to 60 years,” said Oliver Shipley, ecologist and co-author from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Shipley said they are still trying to understand the reasons and the timing behind the presence of sharks and other animals in the waters of New York.

Sharks have garnered more attention since there has been a reported increase in shark activity near Long Island beaches. This comes after a surge of bites and encounters in the summer of 2023. At least five swimmers were bitten by sharks over Fourth of July weekend this year.

Shipley and his fellow researchers have already begun some of the observations they call for in the study. Michael Frisk, co-author and Stony Brook ecologist, said they have used acoustic tags to track sharks’ movements and behaviors, as well as their acceleration, while also measuring the effects of climate change.

“We collect this information over years, and we’ve had over hundreds of thousands over the last decade, for not only, but other animals we track as well,” Frisk said. “And this can then be put into models that we can use to foresee movements of animals and their response to a changing environment.”

Ripley said the effects of climate change will intensify over the next decade. To expand monitoring methods along the New York Bight area, the authors are using coastal drone surveys, environmental DNA assessments and spatial analyses.

Although interactions between humans and sharks are exceedingly rare, Ripley said he hopes that people do not become deterred from spending time in the ocean.

Clare Gehlich is a news intern at WSHU for the fall of 2023.