Wildlife experts say a healthy seal population along the Northeast coast of the United States will likely lead to more shark attacks on humans.
Seals are top targets for large sharks such as the great white. The seals are currently doing well in areas of the Northeast thanks to years of protective efforts.
But in recent years, there have been more attacks on humans. Experts say the sharks mistook people for seals.
The latest attack happened on July 27, off the coast of Maine, when a woman swimmer was killed by a great white shark. It was the first recorded deadly shark attack in the state’s history. The attack on 63-year-old Julie Dimperio Holowach happened off Harpswell, Maine, about 9 to 12 meters from land.
Swimmers in New England states have learned to be more careful in recent years as more great whites have been seen along coastal areas.
A 2018 attack that killed a man in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was also believed to be a great white shark. It was the first deadly shark attack to happen in Massachusetts in more than 80 years.
The deadly creatures are not “mad or angry or preferring human flesh,” said Greg Skomal, a shark specialist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Instead, Skomal told The Associated Press, “They just occasionally make a mistake. And it’s tragic when they do.”
Incidents of shark bites remain extremely rare, especially in Northeastern waters. The International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida lists only 10 unprovoked shark attacks off New England, records dating back to 1837 show. The majority of documented shark attacks in the U.S. happen off Florida.
Internationally, warm weather countries such as South Africa and Australia have higher totals. But shark bites are rare in those places, too. Australia has recorded 652 unprovoked shark attacks going back to 1580, the International Shark Attack File states.
Shark bites in colder northern waters do happen, but they are rare. A small number of attacks have been recorded off Russia, Finland and Washington state in the U.S.
Researchers are seeing more great whites off New England, said James Sulikowski. He is an expert on Northeastern sharks based at Arizona State University.
The greater number of sightings is “unequivocally” because of the healthier seal population off New England, Sulikowski said. The seal comeback started with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
Grey seals – once hunted to the point of disappearing completely – are now common on Cape Cod.
The sharks are not looking for people, but they are a reason for swimmers to be cautious, Sulikowski said. However, as sharks continue to hunt seals for food, the likelihood increases that they will instead find humans, he added.
In Maine, ocean officers are carrying out searches for sharks following the deadly attack. The state has restricted swimming at some state parks. It also has sent a clear message to beachgoers: if you see seals, stay away.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associate Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
prefer – v. to like one thing better than something else
occasionally – adv. sometimes but not often
unprovoked – adj. happening without a reason or apparent cause
unequivocal – adj. without doubt, very clearly the case
cautious – adj. careful about avoiding danger