Beaches Are Still Safe Despite Surging Great White Shark Populaiton

Jun 20, 2014 02:48 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro

A new report that scientists are calling one of the most comprehensive studies of great white sharks claims that their numbers are "surging" in the ocean off the Eastern U.S. and Canada after decades of decline, according to the Associated Press.

Despite the increase, experts say that doesn't mean beachgoers should fear the ocean this summer.

The study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, which was published this month in the journal PLOS ONE, confirms that the population of sharks has increased since about 2000 in the western North Atlantic.

The researchers behind the study credit the resurgence to conservation efforts, like a federal 1997 act that prevented hunters from going after great whites, and greater availability of prey, according to AP.

The species is still listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"The species appears to be recovering," said Cami McCandless, one of the authors, according to AP. "This tells us the management tools appear to be working."

Great white sharks get their fearsome reputation from the movie "Jaws," which was released 39 years ago today (June 20).

Despite their reputation, confrontations are, rare, as only 106 unprovoked white shark attacks have occurred in U.S. waters since 1916, according to a study by the University of Florida. Of those attacks, 13 were fatal.

Great whites are considered apex predators, who help control the populations of other species.

"You should be concerned for a good reason," said James Sulikowski, a professor of marine science at the University of New England in Portland, who was not involved in the study, according to AP. "We need these sharks in our waters."

A different study published this month in PLOS ONE suggested that great whites have also been spotted in the eastern north Pacific Ocean again.

"We determined there were enough animals that there was a low to very low risk of extinction, and in fact, most developments suggest an increasing population," said Heidi Dewar, a fisheries research biologist with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, according to AP.

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