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Creature Feature: Shark-infested waters?

When I was little, the giant, animatronic shark permanently lodged at the top of the Ripley’s building was one of the most terrifying things on the boardwalk, second only to the headless Count that guards the Trimper’s haunted house. My dad would tell me that during a big storm some years back, a tidal wave swept the shark out of the ocean and landed him right between the walls of Ripley’s. Ever since, he’s been stuck in some kind of boardwalk purgatory, forever lording his giant head over the innocent families beneath him.

Shark coming out of a building
He wouldn’t be so intimidating if his teeth weren’t so sharp.

I was smart enough to know the shark was fake, but not quite smart enough to not be scared of real sharks that could be lurking in the Atlantic. I never went in the water past my knees, afraid that I’d be pulled under by some angry, real-life version of the Ripley’s shark and eaten, or at least get a leg chomped off.

Now that I’m older and know better, I swim in the ocean fearlessly. I know what to do in the case of a riptide (swim parallel to the shore to escape the current), and I also know that my chance of being involved in a shark attack is literally 1 in 3,748,067. I still watch fireworks on the 4th of July and drive my car, too, even though my chances of being killed by those things is far greater than being killed by a shark.

Basically, although many beachgoers have been frightened upon hearing that human/shark encounters have increased in recent years (due mostly to population increase and climate change), there’s still nothing to worry about. Sharks do exist in the Atlantic Ocean, and they have been known to occasionally wander through the Ocean City waters, but before I tell you more about those guys, let me ease your mind with some anti-shark attack tips.

Shark in the Atlantic Ocean
An Atlantic shark goes after bait. Don’t dangle your limbs in the water, or they might mistake you for bait.

Shark safety

First, don’t swim too far from the shore – use your judgement, but if a lifeguard blows their whistle at you, then you definitely need to come farther in.

Swim in groups. It is believed that most shark attacks occur when a shark mistakes a human for their regular, undersea prey, and if you’re swimming alone, they’re more likely to make that mistake.

Avoid swimming at dusk and dawn, when sharks are more active and hunting for food. If you’re really worried, try not to swim at nighttime, too, as sharks have bad eyesight to begin with and are more likely to mistake you for prey when visibility is low.

Don’t go in the water if you’re bleeding. It sounds like an old wive’s tale, but sharks really are attracted to the scent of blood (though it’s unknown if they’re actually lured in by human blood). If you have an open wound, you should be more concerned with getting a bacterial infection from the ocean water than with getting attacked by a shark, but I digress. Just stay out of the water.

Sharks on Delmarva

Shark sightings aren’t super common in the Delmarva area, but they do happen, moreso in recent years. Sharks migrate to the region in the spring and summer as the water gets warmer. Increasingly warm weather + fishermen placing bait in the water to attract sand sharks + laws passed that prevent the hunting of sharks = more sharks near our shores.

Some sharks that frequent the region have been tagged, in order to track their location, and named.

Septima, a 1,000 pound tiger shark, was originally tagged off the coast of South Carolina. Since being tagged in 2014, she’s swam thousands of miles up and down the east coast, and has been known to hang out around Assateague and the Indian River and Isle of Wight bays.

Mary Lee is a famous local, a 17-foot-long, 3,456 pound great white who was originally tagged off the coast of Cape Cod in 2012. This summer, she’s been spending a lot of time around the Jersey Shore, and in early June, she was located just six miles east of Ocean City.

Mary Lee, an apparently social predator, even has her own Twitter. As you can see in the picture, she leads a pretty busy life.
These sharks (and many others) can be tracked on OCEARCH. On the site’s home page, there’s an interactive map where you can see what sharks are near your coast – as I’m looking right now, there are three swimming around between Ocean City and Chincoteague named Paumanok, Cate Ells and Big Kahuna. Mary Lee, at the moment, is closer to Ocean City, NJ.

Kristin is a writer and photographer in Ocean City, Maryland, and is the content manager for OceanCity.com and other State Ventures, LLC sites. She loves getting reader-submitted stories and photos, so send her an email anytime. She also works part-time at the Art League of Ocean City and the Ocean City Film Festival and lives just off the peninsula with her dog and fiancé. Her photos can be found on Instagram @oc_kristin.

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