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Drones Eye Shorelines for Sharks

Officials are using drones to check the waters near beaches for the presence of sharks.

A man on a beach stands in front of a red jet ski that says Lifeguard as he operates a drone that is flying nearby.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images News

Lifeguard supervisor Cary Epstein operates a shark-monitoring drone at Jones Beach State Park in New York.

At beaches along the coast of New York state, unpiloted flying vehicles called drones sweep over the shoreline. Officials are using cameras on the drones to capture footage of what’s under the water. Specifically, they’re looking for sharks.

Sharks have always come close to shorelines, but in the summer of 2023, there’s been a higher-than-average number of human-shark encounters. Climate change has warmed the North Atlantic Ocean, making it more hospitable to sharks. And, in New York, state laws now protect bunker fish, a staple of the shark diet, making them more plentiful.

Aerial view of a shark swimming in green water.

© Christopher Seufert/Dreamstime.com

This aerial photo of a shark was taken off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Officials say beachgoers shouldn’t fear sharks. Shark bites are extremely rare. When they do happen, they’re usually not deadly, and they are often the result of encounters with smaller shark species, not the great white sharks that many people fear. Sharks can mistake a person for their usual prey.

Still, the state of New York has decided to use drones to help protect swimmers and surfers. In July 2023, New York governor Kathy Hochul announced a program that would provide 42 new drones to monitor beaches for shark activity. Some people object to drone use, saying that footage of sharks near shorelines can spark fear.

“Everybody that’s seeing a shark now is documenting it and can blast it onto the Internet on social media, and millions of people can see it,” Frank Quevedo, the executive director of the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton, New York, told the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). “So people demonize sharks, saying, ‘Oh, they’re in our waters, they’re going to kill people.’”

But others argue that drones can make people feel safer. When police and other officials learn from drone footage that sharks are swimming near a beach, they can order everyone out of the water as a precaution. Plus, footage can reveal that sharks are less aggressive than many people think. In fact, some drone footage shows sharks swimming peacefully a short distance away from surfers. They’re not interested in the surfers.

Cary Epstein is a lifeguard supervisor at Jones Beach in New York, where drones are used to monitor the shoreline. Epstein says people shouldn’t be afraid, but they should understand that the sharks are just being sharks.

“People swim in the ocean every day, and they have for centuries,” Epstein told the Associated Press. “But we do have to remember that we are cohabitating [with sharks], and this is their house.”

Did You Know?

An adult orca and an orca calf swim side by side.

robertharding/Alamy

With about 300 knife-like teeth, great white sharks might seem like they rule the oceans. But they do have one natural predator: orcas. Orcas, also called killer whales, have been known to attack and eat great white sharks.

Are Sharks Really Movie Monsters?

Steven Spieberg crouches on a crane pointing a camera into the mouth of a fake shark as four other men stand behind him.

© 1975 Universal Pictures Company, Inc.

Steven Spielberg (seen here holding the camera) directed the 1975 hit movie Jaws.  (Don’t worry. The shark is fake!)

A great white shark had a starring role in one of the biggest movies ever. Released in 1975, Jaws was about a gigantic great white that terrorizes swimmers at a beach in the northeastern U.S. The movie was a huge hit. So was the novel it was based on. But was Jaws fair to sharks?

Steven Spielberg doesn’t think so. Spielberg directed Jaws, but in a 2022 interview, he said he later realized that the movie gave sharks an unfair reputation as horrible monsters. After the Jaws movie came out, sharks were fished at a rate that caused their population to decline.

“I truly…regret the [destruction] of the shark population because of the book and the film,” Spielberg told BBC Radio 4.

© 1975 Universal Pictures Company, Inc.

Steven Spielberg having some fun with a fake shark on the set of Jaws.

Scientists say sharks aren’t a great threat to humans—but humans continue to be a threat to sharks. Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws (the novel), pointed this out in 2006.

“There’s no such thing as a rogue man-eater shark,” Benchley told the London Daily Express. “In fact, sharks rarely take more than one bite out of people, because we’re so lean and unappetizing to them.”

Sink Your Teeth Into This!

A diver in scuba gear swims alongside a tiger shark.

© Martin Voeller/Dreamstime.com

You can read more about sharks, and watch videos of shark activity, at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

brouhaha

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

great excitement or concern about something

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