Study Counts More Sharks Than Ever Along East Coast

And they're still not fully recovered from overfishing
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 11, 2015 10:42 AM CDT
In this Aug. 7, 2013 photo, a bull shark is pulled towards a boat for sampling and measuring during a shark tagging expedition.   (AP Photo/Courtesy Christine Shepard)
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(Newser) – Anyone still terrified of Jaws might want to stop reading now. The shark population on the East Coast is at its highest since scientists began counting the animals 29 years ago, according to a federal study, and scientists are high-finning, er, fiving, over the news. In just three years, shark numbers have spiked 55%: NOAA surveyors counted and tagged 2,835 animals from Florida to North Carolina during this year's spring search, compared to 1,831 sharks in 2012, report Newsweek and Fox News. The most common of 13 species found were Atlantic sharpnose, tiger, dusky, and sandbar sharks. The latter two species had been heavily depleted by fishers, so "this is a positive sign," shark expert Gregory Skomal, who wasn't involved in the study, tells Newsweek. But the mag notes the dusky shark population is still a long way from "fully recovered."

Shark numbers slid from the late 1970s to the early 1990s due to overfishing. Though federal laws limiting commercial shark fishing were put on the books in 1993, sharks breed as little as once during their lifetimes, so they're slow to bounce back. Researchers also tagged three great whites and six bull sharks, which past surveys often haven't found. A bull shark hadn't been captured by the program since 2001. While the rising shark population could play a role in the record-setting eight shark bites in North Carolina this year, Skomal says there might have just been more swimmers in the water. "Oceanographic conditions might have brought more sharks closer to shore during their seasonal migration than have normally occurred," an expert adds. (Read about sharks' sixth sense.)

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