Great white shark numbers surging

This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a great white shark encountered off the coast of Massachusetts. A NOAA report released June 11, 2014 says great white abundance in the area has climbed since about 2000. The scientists report the shark’s growing numbers are due to conservation efforts and greater availability of prey.  (AP Photo/NOAA, Greg Skomal)

This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a great white shark encountered off the coast of Massachusetts. A NOAA report released June 11, 2014 says great white abundance in the area has climbed since about 2000. The scientists report the shark’s growing numbers are due to conservation efforts and greater availability of prey. (AP Photo/NOAA, Greg Skomal)

PORTLAND, Maine — A report that scientists are calling one of the most comprehensive studies of great white sharks finds their numbers are surging in the ocean off the Eastern U.S. and Canada after decades of decline — bad news if you’re a seal, but something experts say shouldn’t instill fear in beachgoers this summer.

The study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, published this month in the journal PLOS ONE, says the population of the notoriously elusive fish has climbed since about 2000 in the western North Atlantic.

The scientists behind the study attribute the resurgence to conservation efforts, such as a federal 1997 act that prevented hunting of great whites, and greater availability of prey. The species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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

Great whites owe much of their fearsome reputation to the movie “Jaws,” which was released 39 years ago Friday. But confrontations are rare, with only 106 unprovoked white shark attacks — 13 of them fatal — in U.S. waters since 1916, according to data provided by the University of Florida.

They are, though, ecologically critical. They are apex predators — those at the top of the food chain — and help control the populations of other species. That would include the gray seal, whose growing colonies off Massachusetts have provided food.

“You should be concerned for a good reason,” said James Sulikowski, a professor of marine science at the University of New England in Portland “We need these sharks in our waters.”

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