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Research team discovers sharks don't avoid cities

University of Miami shark experts examine how sharks respond to urbanization
bull shark
Posted at 12:56 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-29 14:10:40-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.  — Claude Rue of south Florida said there's only one strong belief he has when it comes to sharks.

"I know they don't mess with me. I don't mess with them," Rue said.

Rue was interested to learn more about sharks through recent findings by the University of Miami. A team of shark experts led by Neil Hammerschlag studied how sharks are responding to the urbanization of coastlines. Hammerschlag said it's a common thought that sharks avoid urban areas, especially when there are a lot of people around.

"That's not what we found," Hammerschlag said. "We were really surprised to learn the three species we're tracking—the great hammerhead, bull shark and nurse shark—did not avoid the urban areas or the areas closest to the metropolis of Miami."

Hammerschlag pointed to several possible reasons to support the findings. He said sharks might mistake garbage in the water near urban areas for food.

He added that sharks typically are attracted to marinas and fishing piers because of bait frequently in the water. He also said nutrients from land that funnel to the ocean could play a role.

"Those nutrients can kind of fertilize the water and create a mini food web that attracts the bigger fish and larger fish and eventually sharks," Hammerschlag said.

According to the International Shark Attack File, about 70 people are bitten by sharks globally each year.

"I think what this does is it tells us we just need to be a little more aware," Hammerschlag said about the findings of the study.

Professional shark diver Rayna O'Nan has advice for anyone that spots a shark.

"You pretty much stay calm, which I know is the exact opposite of what people want to do, but I tell people if you don't want to be treated like prey, don't act like prey," O'Nan said. "Prey runs and splashes at the surface. If you can just stay calm, most of the time a shark is just going to come look at you. Humans are not a food source for sharks. They don't want to eat you."

O'Nan also advised not to swim in low light when it's easier for a shark to mistake a human for a fish.

Rue has no problem following all of this advice.

"I know now where to stay away," he said.