Oceans

Shark attacks: Expert shares facts about the ocean predator amid uptick in sightings

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With shark attacks off the coast of Long Island, New York, at a higher number than usual this summer, one expert is helping to separate truth from fiction.

dr. Mike Heithaus, a marine ecologist and professor at Florida International University (FIU), spoke with “Fox & Friends” on Thursday and answered several common questions people have about sharks.

First, Heithaus explained that sharks aren’t targeting humans.

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“The vast majority of bites, sharks are making a mistake,” Heithaus said. “Especially these ones off Long Island. They’re non-life threatening.”

A bull shark gets up close to inspect divers during an ecotourism shark dive off of Jupiter, Florida on May 5, 2022.
(Photo by Joseph Prezioso/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“They’re probably a shark seeing a hand or a foot and thinking it might be a fish,” he added. “So we are not really on the menu and these are mistakes.”

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Heithaus said that one thing people often get wrong about sharks is that they’re not around if dolphins are around.

“Sharks and dolphins will even feed on the same fish schools,” he said. “So if you see dolphins, there very well may be sharks there.”

“Dolphins don’t always attack and drive away sharks,” Heithaus added. “Dolphins are at risk from sharks, so if you see dolphins, you still have to be worried that sharks might be there.”

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Another common misconception is that sharks are the most dangerous threat to people at the beach.

“In the US, especially, there are many things that are more dangerous than sharks,” Heithaus said. “Rip currents, just the conditions themselves. So whenever you go to the beach, you need to be aware of local conditions and listen to local advice.”

dr.  Mike Heithaus recommends avoiding swimming at sunrise and sunset, when sharks are active.

dr. Mike Heithaus recommends avoiding swimming at sunrise and sunset, when sharks are active.
(iStock)

Heithaus said people should be especially wary of sharks when they’re in opaque or low-visibility water, where more than 60% of shark bites take place.

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“That’s one thing you can do if you’re worried about sharks is not to go swimming in turbid waters,” Heithaus said. “You can also avoid swimming at sunrise and sunset, when predators like sharks tend to be really active.”

“If you see a big school of fish where sharks might be feeding, stay away from that, too,” he added.

Heithaus explained that the increased number of shark sightings this year could have several causes such as warm waters or successful conservation efforts since many shark species are threatened with extinction.

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“[Conservation efforts] could increase the shark numbers, but they’re still nowhere near where they should be,” Heithaus said. “As we get more sharks, that means we’re probably going to have healthier oceans.”

“We want to have sharks out there where we can live with them,” he added.

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