Whenever a news story about sharks is published online, at least one would-be troll will comment something like the following, almost without fail:
“Oh wow. There are sharks in the ocean. What a shock (eye roll). Deal with it.”
Sometimes these comments will be pure, obnoxious sarcasm. Sometimes they will carry an additional, well-meaning conservation message like, “The ocean is their world; we must respect it when we enter it.”
But despite their subtle differences, all of these sorts of comments have one thing in common: their authors usually demonstrate that they missed the story’s point entirely. Because what’s novel about most shark-related news is not that sharks exist, live in the ocean, or occasionally bite people, but instead that someone saw, encountered, or photographed a shark in a manner that doesn’t happen very often in that particular place or at that specific time.
I’ve been comin’ here my whole life and never seen…
“I’ve been coming here my whole life and never seen xxxx” is a ubiquitous refrain along the Jersey Shore. Usually, when someone says this, they imply that it wasn’t there if they didn’t see it. But what they are actually communicating in many cases, whether they realize it or not, is that “I’m not a particularly good observer.”
Sometimes it just means they have been coming here their whole life during the wrong season (as with Snowy White Owls or Humpback Whales.) Sometimes it means they quit looking because whatever they are not seeing was once rare but is now quite common (as with Bottlenose Dolphin and Bald Eagles.) And often, it simply means “I never made any effort to see it” (as with endangered Piping Plovers or nocturnal Coyotes.)
But “I’ve been coming here my whole life and never seen a shark” is the most understandable for several reasons.
First off, sharks are quick, sneaky, and generally dislike us, so they don’t usually swim right up to us where we can easily observe them. Secondly, we overfished our most common sharks, and conservation efforts to increase their numbers only really advanced in the past few decades. And lastly, like most larger marine life, sharks prefer to stay out of the shallows and the surf and instead swim just slightly beyond where we generally like to play and congregate.
But also, there is a tremendous cognitive dissonance for most people when it comes to sharks. Many people don’t want to know that they are swimming all around us. So, knowing that sharks can and do bite, it is understandable why some people prefer to believe that because they have “been comin’ here their whole life and never seen a shark,” it means that sharks are rare enough to be safely considered non-existent. We want to see a shark, but we also don’t.
The reality is, Long Beach Island is lousy with sharks, and we swim right alongside them every day: just like the trolls have been trying to tell us. And even though we don’t usually get to see them, their growing presence is truly something to celebrate.
Conservation efforts to restore shark populations are clearly working, so much so that nighttime shark fishing on the island is now a hot pastime (even though, ironically, it is so easy to fish for them now because it is so illegal to fish for them!)
Anyone who ventures just a little beyond the surf enough, maybe swimming, paddleboarding, or kayaking, has probably bumped into one of our local Sandbar sharks. Sometimes as large as eight feet, with massive dorsal fins, they are tough to miss when one swims nearby. But they are also quick, shy, and usually dart underneath as an enormous and mysterious shadow, leaving you wondering if you really just saw what you thought you just saw.
Lucky for us, one of our resident marine biologists, Dylan Yates, paddled out with friend Jacob (also a biologist) and a GoPro to get us a close-up look at the sharks swimming right on the other side of the waves while the rest of us were bodysurfing and splashing around.
What’s exceptional about this video is that, while I’ve seen many local sharks over the years, they were always hauled up on the beach at night and illuminated by a headlamp, filmed from the side of a boat, miles out at sea, or darting underneath my paddleboard, more shadow than anything. This is the best video I’ve ever seen of a local shark just being sharky and casually swimming around with us.
Thankfully Long Beach Island is producing the next generation of scientists who are smart enough and motivated enough to paddle out and film these animals for us and to show us what we’ve been missing while we’ve been comin’ here our whole lives. Put another way; I’ve been comin’ here my whole life and never seen this video.
Enjoy this exceptional clip from Dylan & Jacob showing one (actually two) of our many local Sandbar sharks (and their food sources) relaxing in North Beach at the beach patrol buoy off the public access.
So now, allow me to beat the trolls to it: there are sharks in the ocean. Deal with it!
Have you been comin’ down the shore your whole life and never seen an owl, whale, eagle, dolphin, plover, falcon, or seal? Get the 2022 Coastal Wildlife Calendar from the Little Egg Foundation and you can see them all, all year long! Your contribution will help support the NestStory software which biologists use to keep tabs on all of the amazing animals who live around us but yet we barely see. You’ll also support projects which give youngsters like Dylan & Jacob opportunities to work in the field locally.