Great white sharks coming closer to shore

Posted at 7:18 AM, Jul 09, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-09 07:18:01-04

(WTVR) – Most of the country has experienced this week’s dangerously high temperatures. Unfortunately you can add one more hazard to the list this summer: shark sightings off our nation’s beaches. Great whites have been spotted on both coasts and though nobody has been hurt, some encounters have been way too close for comfort.

Great white encounters are becoming more frequent, with hot temperatures bringing them earlier. But it’s not the people they’re after — it’s the exploding seal populations that have moved closer to shore.

Leading shark experts say because seals are protected species and sharks — their natural predator — have been over-hunted, there’s now about a quarter million grey seals on the Eastern Seaboard alone.

The seal population has exploded for two reasons. For the last 40 years, they’ve been protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, meaning humans can’t legally kill them. Meanwhile, their chief natural predator, sharks, have dwindled in numbers. That’s largely due to the “finning,” in which poachers cut off the sharks’ dorsal fins — a delicacy in some cultures — leaving the rest of the animal to die.

The combination of factors has let seals proliferate basically unchecked, expanding their habitat closer to shore and bringing the sharks left hunting them closer to humans.

Experts say that around people, great whites are more curious than aggressive, first investigating and then possibly taking “a nibble” to see whether the strange creature is anything of interest.

But a great white’s nibble can be a deadly chomp for a human, which is why a San Diego area beach was shut down earlier this week. 

The last fatal shark attack in California was in Santa Barbara County in 2010 when a surfer was bitten. The last fatal shark attack off of Cape Cod was in 1936. Still, the sight of dorsal fins is sending a cold chill through what has been a hot summer for sharks.

Source: CBS Interactive