Due to overfishing in the Atlantic Ocean of the food theylike to eat, hungry sharks are coming closer to shore andmay mistake swimmers for a meal. Menhaden fish, a commonshark prey, are at critically low levels, just in time forthe beach vacation season.

Richard Condrey, associate professor of oceanography andcoastal studies at Louisiana State University, says, “Thatmeans sharks are getting more aggressive about findingalternative food sources and are more likely to come closerto shore, where they mistake swimmers for prey.” Condrey andLSU graduate student Kevin Barry studied the daily stomachcontents of blacktip sharks off the Louisiana coast forthree years to learn what and how often they ate. They foundthe rapid growth rate of the sharks meant they needed aconstant supply of food, primarily menhaden fish.

While the Gulf Coast still has a large stock of menhaden,Condrey says the Atlantic menhaden population has dwindledto a 3 percent reproduction rate. Menhaden, which are about5 to 7 inches long and are similar to herring or anchovies,are harvested for use in chicken feed.

Condrey believes the shark attacks last summer in theVirginia Beach area may have been connected to the declinein menhaden. “Virginia Beach is right next to what isconsidered a primary nursing ground for menhaden, which isChesapeake Bay. The reduction in availability of menhadenfor Atlantic sharks may have resulted in a change in theirforaging strategy,” he says. “It occurred to me that wemight be overlooking the obvious.”

There were 76 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide last year,down from 85 attacks recorded the year before, according tothe International Shark Attack File (ISAF), based at theUniversity of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. They saythe number of shark attacks each year is connected to theamount of time people spend in the sea. The ISAF says, “Asthe world population continues its upsurge and interest inaquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realisticallyshould expect increases in the number of shark attacks andother aquatic recreation-related injuries.”

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