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Why experts say a rise in shark sightings is a good thing

While the sight of the sharks so close to shore might be alarming, experts are trying to reassure beachgoers.
/ Source: TODAY

Beachgoers on the Atlantic coast might have noticed an increase in sharks this summer but according to experts, having the larges fishes close to shore might actually be a good thing.

From Maine to New York, there's been an increase in shark sightings, and nationwide, more than 30 shark attacks have been reported in 2020 so far.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said that her area of Long Island, New York has had 26 confirmed shark sightings this year.

In Nantucket, Massachusetts, multiple beaches were closed after sharks were spotted less than 15 feet from shore. Lifeguards up and down the Eastern seaboard have been extra vigilant and swimmers have been keeping an eye out for a stray fin.

"You saw a fin swimming for at least two to three seconds forward," said a Long Island lifeguard. "You could not mistake it."

While the sight of the sharks so close to shore might be alarming, experts are trying to reassure swimmers.

Chris Fischer, an ocean explorer who is conducting shark research off the coast of New England, said that the increase in sightings is because of an increase in fish in the ocean.

"There's a lot more fish in the ocean now off the East Coast of the United States then there was when our great-grandparents were alive," Fischer told NBC's Kerry Sanders. "People talk about the increase in shark sightings, but for some reason they don't connect it to 'Wow, look at how much more bait there is.'"

Fischer said that the increase in bait is due to conservation efforts that began in the late 1980s.

"What's really going on, in the big picture, is we're turning the East Coast back into one of the great wild oceans," Fischer explained.

Marine expert Chris Paparo said that the increase in sharks is also a sign of a "healthy ecosystem."

"Often, it's thought to be a scary thing, like, there's a problem, and actually this isn't a problem," said Paparo, who lives on Long Island, where more sharks have been seen lately. "It's an inconvenience for some but a healthy ecosystem has sharks."

Fischer said that keeping shark populations healthy keeps the entire ecosystem in check. After the 1975 movie "Jaws" was released, large shark populations shrank to just 9%.

"Without those large sharks, the seals are going to wipe out all our fish," Fischer said. "There will be no food for us and our grandkids."