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Shark Week in NYC: Facts about the predators swimming in local waters

A shark swims in a tank at the

A shark swims in a tank at the New York Aquarium August 7, 2001 in Coney Island. (Note: This is not a photo of the shark that was killed.) Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

Across the country, millions of people will be spending the next few days too terrified to go to the beach as some of the world's deadliest ocean predators are celebrated non-stop.

Yes, it's Shark Week.

The truth, though, is that sharks have long lurked in the waters among us and anyone who has been in the Atlantic Ocean has probably crossed paths with a shark and didn't even know it, say experts.

Sharks just have little to no interest in human flesh, contrary to everything that happens in "Jaws" and "Sharknado." 

"Sharks are not looking to attack people," said Jon Forrest Dohlin, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium in Coney Island. "Sharks have so much more to fear from human beings."

Here's what else you need to know about sharks in New York waters.




There are 25 species of shark in New York waters



Sand tigers, blue sharks, smooth dogfish, mako, great white sharks -- these are just some of the sharks that abound in local waters, Dohlin said. "It's a lot of sharks out there," he said.

Sharks range in size from about 3 feet all the way up to 25 feet for whale sharks, he said. They mostly feed on smaller fish or plankton.

The New York Aquarium, which is constructing a huge new exhibit dedicated to sharks set to open in 2016, is conducting studies into the habitats and migratory patterns of three species.




Shark bites are exceedingly rare



People have a far greater chance of being bitten by a dog than a shark in New York City. The Department of Health said it recorded 3,646-dog bite injuries in 2013 alone but it has never -- NEVER -- recorded a single shark bite injury.

But even if the statistics don't allay shark fears, Ben Freitas of the World Wildlife Fund had some advice on avoiding the risk of encounters: swim in groups and don't wear shiny jewelry, for instance. "For the most part, people don't need to fear or worry going into the ocean," he said.




Yes, there are probably more great white sharks around



A recent study led by a researcher from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded that the population of great white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, has rebounded after decades of decline due to overfishing and catching.

Experts point to a couple factors that have stabilize and possibly grow -- a greater abundance of food, namely seals, which are protected under the Marine Protection Act and federal protections for great whites that have been in place since 1997.

And while much about the habitat, life history, behavior and feeding of great whites remain a mystery, the study points to the possible existence of a key breeding ground for white sharks in the New York Bight, the jaw-like coastal geography between New York and New Jersey.

That could explain recent encounters by fisherman this summer, Freitas explained. "Some of the juveniles and younger species will come in closer to the shore," he said.  

But Dohlin said there may be another reason why there have been so many great white encounters recorded so far this year: technology. "Our ability to record their presence and send (pictures) out to the world is new," he added.


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