NYC's Sharks: A Lot of Teeth and Attitude
Once again, the Discovery Channel went fearlessly into its annual Shark Week. This year’s line-up included a one hour show: “Sharks and The City: New York”, narrated by none other than Chris Noth, Mr. Big from Sex and the City. There was also a special appearance by singer Seal who becomes a shark snack. (You can’t make these things up.)
Levity and puns aside, there is real scientific news about great white sharks returning to New York City waters. Are they here yet? No, at least not in the harbor. But there is hope as well as belief that they will be. The signs are all there.
Forget “Jaws”, the seminal movie that scared the hell out of an entire generation. The return of great white sharks to our area after more than three centuries is great news. It means cleaner water and that ecological balance is once more being achieved.
We understand that that the thought of swimming with sharks evokes a primordial fear, much more than, let’s say, swimming with dolphins. But great whites get a bad rap. For one thing, they are far from the vicious, man-eating, killers people think they are. Yes, they’re predators but most people survive being bitten by a great white, which probably happened because they mistook a human for their natural prey. True, their size can inflict great damage with only one big “test” bite from 300 or so sharp teeth. But, they are far from being as aggressive as bull and tiger sharks. Overall, a person is much more likely to die from a wasp or bee bite or being struck by lightning than from a shark attack.
Great whites are naturally curious. If they see something, they taste it to see if it’s to their liking. Great white bites of boats, buoys and surfboards attest to the one bite and nope, not tasty, conclusion. Humans fall into that category. To a great white, we are way too bony, unlike their favorite prey – plump seals with a thick layer of fat.
Which brings us to more good news in the ecological circle. Where there are seals, great white sharks are usually not far behind. Ravaged by hunting, pollution and habitat changes, for the first time in over 200 hundred years, harbor seals are back in New York. They are primarily congregating on rocky, man-made Swinburne Island off the coast of Brooklyn, near the Verrazano Bridge.
According to “Sharks and the City: New York”, our environmental conditions are near identical to Seal Island off the coast of South Africa which attracts a large population of Cape fur seals and, therefore, a large, predatory population of great white sharks.
For now, no great whites have been tracked to New York harbor. Marine biologist Craig O’ Connell has been tracking and tagging sharks around New York’s waters for a decade. He has found a shark nursery of 9 tagged juveniles out at Montauk. And let’s not forget the famous great white, Mary Lee (who has her own faithful following and Twitter page) who has been known to enjoy summering around the Jersey Shore and East Hampton.
Time will tell whether great whites will become abundant in New York City’s waters. It they do, it will be good news as the sharks are important to the ocean’s ecology. The exception would be the re-appearance of the megalodon (you saw an approximation of this huge species in Jurassic World) which would make great whites run for cover. (And, yes, you’d need a bigger boat.)
We’d be remiss not to at least reference “Sharknado 2: The Second One’ because it takes place in New York City. As our hero Fin Shepherd says, “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too. They’re sharks. They’re scary. No one wants to get eaten. But I’ve been eaten. And I’m here to tell you it takes a lot more to bring a good man down. A lot more than that to bring a New Yorker down.”
Yup. You can’t make these things up.