Great white sharks increasingly abundant along the Atlantic coast


A great white shark (Andrew Brandy Casagrande/Discovery Channel via AP)

As a part of our ongoing quest to provide you with the very latest information about great white sharks (Editor’s note: This is the first installment in an ongoing series that might end after a single installment), we bring you the latest information about great white sharks.

The great white shark was a species in decline, an archetypal predator feared for its killing prowess but powerless against the outside factors diminishing its numbers. (Great white sharks are killed in a variety of ways; some get tangled in nets set for other fish, while others are hunted for their fins and meat near certain countries.)

But after a decline in great white shark numbers seen during the last three decades of the 20th century, there’s good news (for people who are in favor of great white sharks existing): The shark is experiencing “apparent increases in abundance” near the Atlantic coast, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. This surge, which follows several conservation efforts in the 1990s, suggests “a more optimistic outlook” for the great white’s recovery in the Atlantic.

Great whites of all ages and sizes were seen year round, though the numbers of sharks shifted as the seasons did. In the winter months, these great whites — most of them young — were largely seen around the Gulf of Mexico and near the southeastern United States; as it warmed up in the spring and summer, the sharks made their way along the coast, moving from the Gulf of Mexico to the New York area before being seen largely in the area along the Mid-Atlantic, New England and parts of Canada.


Distribution of great white sharks off the Atlantic coast during the four seasons. (PLOS ONE)

The entire notion of a species in need of protection runs counter to the image many of us have imprinted on our brains through pop culture, because for quite a few people, the great white is still — four decades later! — strongly associated with “Jaws.” That movie was a massive cultural phenomenon in 1975, a pivotal moment for the movie industry (it was the first blockbuster, two years before “Star Wars” redefined how we define box office success) and for people in the audience (many of whom developed a “Jaws”-related fear of sharks).

But the great white was deemed to be imperiled, in part because of the shark’s own low reproduction rate, which means the long-term future of the species is still a concern if sharks keep getting inadvertently caught in nets, the study said. (Here are some tips for what you should do if you do see a great white shark. For example: Don’t swim near seals.)

Do you want to see what it’s like to track such a shark? Of course you do, who doesn’t want to track a shark? The non-profit group OCEARCH is following several sharks, including a great white named Katharine currently zooming around the Gulf of Mexico. Follow along on the Shark Tracker or here.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman | June 24