Some beaches in the Hamptons have been closed this week for basking sharks–the giant, gorgeous, totally non-threatening, vegetarian fish that can reach 20 feet long. They’re like big manatees, but with a scary name. Is New York missing out on an animal tourism opportunity just because they’re called sharks?
The Suffolk County Parks department told the Long Island Press that even though the sharks won’t bite people, they’re worried they’re so big they could spook and hit someone. The paper says that swimmers have been banned since “Tuesday afternoon after about a half a dozen nearly 20-foot-long sharks were spotted about 15 feet offshore.”
I haven’t ever heard of these feared whale shark collissions. I guess it’s the same danger a rambunctious family dog could pose to a small child; they won’t bite but they could knock them down. But basking sharks aren’t rambunctious at all. The Basking Shark Project says they normally move at 2.5 to 4, but they have been known to leap out of the water, either to remove parasites or impress mates.
What is well documented is that people LOVE to swim with basking sharks. It’s a big tourism draw worldwide, especially around the UK, just like manatees are in Florida. In fact, the Basking Shark Project has the same problem of people getting too friendly with the basking sharks: “Basking Sharks are relatively docile creatures – often tolerant to approaches by boats and divers. This does not, however, give reason for these animals to be exploited as they have been on occasion.” In fact they made a code of conduct similar to the Florida manatee rules: stay on the surface, stay back 4m and don’t pet the basking shark.
Since these basking sharks show up regularly, maybe it’s time to set some rules and encourage safe viewing here instead of closing the shore.
|Where to SEE SHARKS|
|Where to SEE WHALES|