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After recent sighting off Jenness Beach, how worried should we be about sharks in NH waters?

A great white shark swims off Guadeloupe.
Kike Calvo
A great white shark.

Late last month, a young white shark nicknamed “Anne Bonny” was detected off Jenness Beach in Rye. That news might send a shiver up your spine, but experts say finding a great white shark in this corner of New England is actually a “conservation success story.”

Sharks are especially in the spotlight this month, as people celebrate Shark Awareness Day and tune into Shark Week. So what better time for Granite Staters to learn a thing or two about sharing waters with one of the world's most important apex predators? Read on to find out more about the species swimming in nearby waters.

Who’s tracking sharks locally?

The Rye Fire Department installed four receiver buoys last year to help detect tagged sharks. Chief Mark Cotreau said the department works closely with organizations like the Seacoast Science Center in Rye and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Massachusetts.

“Scientists can extrapolate a lot of information from the movement of these tagged sharks,” he said.

While Cotreau said local officials and residents aren’t seeing unusual numbers of sharks locally, it’s no question they travel the area.

Marine scientist John Chisholm, who works closely with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, said great white sharks can be found throughout the Gulf of Maine all the way into Canada.

Chisholm has been documenting sharks since the late 1970s. Just this week, he received over a dozen reports of great white shark sightings off the Massachusetts coast in a single day — but he said that’s largely due to the fact the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy was looking for sharks to tag. Sightings were recorded from Chatham to Provincetown, Chisholm said.

“It's a good reminder that the sharks are there,” Chisholm said. “When we look for them, we find them.”

What's changing about sharks?

However, Chisholm said some shark populations are on the rise locally, due to a number of factors.

For one, Chisholm said, local waters in New England are becoming warmer. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute found that 2021 and 2022 were the gulf’s highest and second highest temperatures on record, respectively.

Chisholm said this change in habitat is bringing in species you don’t normally see in New England, such as spinner and blacktip sharks, which he recently spotted off the Southern Massachusetts coastline.

“They like warm water, and now the water is warm enough up here for them to extend their range north,” Chisolm said.

He also mentioned that smaller species such as sand tiger sharks have been using estuaries around Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire as “nursery areas” for keeping their juveniles.

Brian Yurasits, a community outreach manager at the Seacoast Science Center, also said it’s a product of conservation legislation that protects some of these shark populations. Part of his work is with the center’s Marine Mammal Rescue, which also researches interactions between sharks and seals. Seals are a natural food source for some shark species.

And while you might imagine they are alarmed at instances of shark predation on an animal they are trying to protect, Yurasits said it’s important to understand their coexistence — which we humans need to learn, too.

“A crucial question is ‘How do we learn to share the shore with these animals moving forward, rather than not learning from the past and continuing to harm these animals?’” he said.

Yurasits said organizations such as the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and Seacoast Science Center are working to understand how sharks are using these waters, which can help determine best safety practices.

If you want to learn how to avoid shark interactions, here are some resources:

  • Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Sharktivity app
  • UNH Sea Grant shark safety guide created in collaboration with the Conservancy
  • Shark and Beach Safety on Cape Cod guide
  • John Chisholm’s Twitter, where he posts updates on other shark species sightings around New England
Adriana (she/they) was a news intern in the summer of 2023, reporting on environment, energy and climate news as part of By Degrees. They graduated from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in June 2023.
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