There has been a bit of “shark mania” in New Jersey this week, at least according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. The above photo is what you think: A dolphin had a bite taken out of it by a shark and washed up in North Wildwood. (Perhaps it happened after too many Tully Nuts.)
The center, located in Brigantine, responds to reports of whales, dolphins and other animals washed up at the Jersey shore. It wrote on Facebook the half-eaten dolphin was a newborn bottlenose dolphin, about 3 meters long. The dolphin likely died before being eaten by the shark.
This is pretty much normal, actually. “That’s what sharks do, they clean the ocean up,” stranding center Director Robert Schoelkopf told the Press of Atlantic City. “We’d have a lot more dead critters washing up on the beach if it weren’t for sharks.”
The North Wildwood Beach Patrol disposed of the dolphin carcass. NBC 10 reported the dolphin’s tail washed up on the beach later.
David Shiffman, a Ph.D. student at the at the University of Miami studying shark ecology and conservation (and owner of the Twitter handle @WhySharksMatter), says it could have been any number of species of shark. “Great white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks have all been known to eat Dolphins occasionally,” he emails. “I don’t know for sure that a shark got this one, but I don’t know what else in that part of the ocean could do that.”
Whether or not a shark eating a dolphin is normal, people are going to be scared after seeing such a photo — especially after two swimmers in North Carolina were bitten 90 minutes apart over the weekend.
Shiffman is one of many academics promoting a campaign against the term “shark attack,” feeling it unnecessarily scares the public. He says the chances of a bad encounter with a shark in the ocean are low.
“Going to the beach can be very dangerous,” he says. “More than 3,000 Americans each year drown. Almost 300 die of heat stroke. Driving can be dangerous, too. But no, you don’t need to worry about a shark biting you while you’re swimming. Millions of Americans swim in the ocean every year, and on average one a year dies from a shark bite. Sharks are there, and they know you’re there, they just aren’t bothering you because human isn’t on the menu.”
I’m sure that won’t calm everyone. People will continue to be scared by sharks. After all, Jaws came out 40 years ago this Saturday.