Sunday, July 13, 2014

The "Great" White Panic

Good evening everyone. Hope all is well. Tonight will be a shorter blog compared to the last shark one I did. Sorry about the rambling on that one. I tend to get that way as many of you probably know already. Anyway... Tonight I'll be looking at somewhat of a local "issue". First of all let me get my map out to show you guys where I will be talking about. .

Close enough. As many of you know by now I do live in New Jersey and tonight's blog involves a growing "issue" in the waters off the state. There appears to be a growing population of white sharks in the water! This is causing a mixed reaction. You have people like me who are just about jumping for joy over the fact that conservation efforts are seemingly starting to pay off. Then you have people who are in a panic over it. So once again the issue of just how dangerous these animals are comes into play.

Image: Growing Great White Shark Population Off Atlantic Coast, Study Says
So the white shark is easily known as one of if not the most aggressive fish in the ocean by many people. Well, they certainly are aggressive, but I've been arguing for years as to just how aggressive they really are. Bear with me here. We are looking at a massive animal. Photos and video truly do not justice to the size that these animals are. Personally I have never seen one, but from what I'm told, technology does them little justice. So lets take a closer look at something.

Take a good hard look at that tooth. Clearly that tooth can do a massive number on a human. There is no denying that at all. Do me a favor now and feel your skin. Soft and smooth right? Keep that in mind for a minute. The natural prey items of a white shark varies greatly. They eat large fish, birds, other sharks, and marine mammals. With the exception of birds, all of these animals have tough skin. Some fish basically have plates covering their bodies, sharks have very tough leathery/sandpaper like skin, and marine mammals have thick layers of blubber that protect and keep them warm. For an animal to eat those types of foods, it needs to have teeth like the one seen above.

These teeth (sand tiger shark) would probably break trying to dig into and tear flesh from marine mammals and large fast moving fish.

These teeth (nurse shark) are waaaaay too small to even have a hope of achieving what the white shark would need them to do.

This tooth (mako shark) can do a good number on fast moving fish, but face the same problems the sand tiger teeth do when trying to grab and tear at larger marine mammals.

So in reality, the first tooth is the best tooth suited for the job it needs to do for a white shark. Now our skin is nowhere near as tough as a shark's, marine mammal's, or bony fish's. This, coupled with the fact that white sharks can weigh several tons is why when a white shark bites a human it does so much damage. If a white shark really wanted to it could tear a person to shreds in just one bite. If it was the aggressive monster they are constantly made out to be, you would hear a lot more horror stories of people being killed and torn limb from limb.

For a shark, the sense of touch is largely in their mouths. This is why you always hear about sharks seemingly gnawing on boat propellers or other random objects. They are not trying to eat a boat propeller. Again, if it wanted to it certainly could. White sharks are known to do something called an exploratory bite. It is not a bite designed to kill. It is a bite designed to figure something out. It is the same as us running our hand over something to find out what something feels like. It just so happens that their hands are in their mouth sort to speak. The key to remember is this. Your weight (nearly 200lbs here) vs a several ton animal. Even when being as gentle as can be, damage will be done. It certainly does not mean that the shark is out to get you because frankly. It's not.

Time and time again white sharks have proven to us that we are simply not on their menus. If we were, things like this

would not be possible. Things like this

would probably not even be legal and would be equated to committing suicide or something. If we were on their menu all of these divers would have been torn apart without any hesitation. Again, we are not on the menu for these animals and judging from the second photo, they are pretty curious of us as we are of them. So you can put down all the red flags about not going into the ocean. Don't worry. Just because there is an increase in populations doesn't mean that there is an imminent danger. Nobody has been bitten. Odds are extremely good that nobody will be bitten. If someone does get bit for some reason it will not be time to panic as chances are very good it would have been a curious shark and nothing more.

So for those of you who are in a panic over the potential increased white shark population off of New Jersey. Do yourself a favor and rest easy. This is a good thing. Last time I was on the ocean there were bunker as far as the eye could see. Perfect food for young white sharks. Again, this is not a bad thing. This shows that there is still hope for our oceans. Locally this shows that conservation efforts are working and that (barring seismic testing which will probably undo everything) we could be really starting to see a comeback of a balanced oceanic ecosystem. We've seen a ton of dolphins, many whales, several white sharks, and countless other predatory fish such as striped bass and bluefish all flock to New Jersey in pursuit of the seemingly endless supply of bunker. That's how it should be. That's a healthy food chain. It's local and who knows how long it will last before commercial fishermen are again allowed to decimate the bunker populations, but for now it is there and it is truly a great thing to see. The white sharks are here for the fish. They are not here for the humans and frankly many of them are too small to even look at marine mammals as a food source at this point so again, for them it's all about the fish right now!

The only issue with their being an increase in white sharks is that there has not been an increase in other species that are not protected such as the mako shark. Given the sheer amount of food that is around it leads me to believe that these animals are still suffering from overfishing in this area. Makos are not protected and are continuing to be harvested at a dangerous pace. If there is going to be a panic it should be over the loss of these sharks and not over the re-appearance of a shark that should probably frequent these waters every year.


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