Sharks near the beach? There's an app for that.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Massachusetts has developed an app to track shark sightings around the area's beaches.
App screenshot/The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy
A catchy soundtrack used to be enough, but the 21st century needs an app to publicize shark activity near New England's coasts.
Some have dismissed the launch of the iOS Sharktivity app as a ploy to make conservation more exciting to a tech-driven society, but its creators insist it is a tool to refine human perception of sharks.
The app's creators at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Mass., are not trying increase swimmer wariness around New England's beaches, they say.
They simply want visitors to Cape Cod to appreciate the shark presence safely. The free app sends push notifications to a device after beach managers or researchers report a shark sighting, the Boston Globe reported.
"This app will be yet another tool to raise awareness and provide the public with information on white shark activity across the East Coast,” conservancy president Cynthia Wigren said in a statement.
The app's creators warn the app is "not an early detection system," and the small number of sightings recorded so far – the app launched July 1 – has prompted some skepticism as to its usefulness.
"There are sharks in the ocean? I don't believe it! Wait, now I can because I have an app!" one reviewer wrote. "Another unnecessary app."
Sightings are limited to the East Coast so far, with only 11 recorded. This may disappoint some shark-loving app-owners, but it also reflects an important truth: Despite what thriller films such as this summer's "The Shallows" or the 1975 classic "Jaws" suggest, human-shark encounters, especially fatal ones, are not at all common.
The world saw a record 98 unprovoked shark attacks in 2015, and the United States led the way with 59, but only six of the attacks were fatal, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File (ISAF). The fatality rate was 6.5 percent, half that of 2000, when 11 people died in human-shark encounters. The file's curators attributed the rise in non-fatal attacks to increased participation in ocean recreation.
“The numerical growth in human-shark interactions does not necessarily mean there is an increase in the rate of shark attacks; rather, it most likely is a function of the growing human population,” ISAF wrote in a press release. “The actual rate of attack likely is declining owing to the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans.”
Scientists at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology reached the same conclusion, saying the shark attacks near Maui suggest the human taste for tropical vacation has coincided with a mating hotspot for Pacific sharks, reported The Christian Science Monitor's Christina Beck in May.
"Shark attacks are still very rare," Francisco Ferretti of Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University told the Monitor. "You have a higher chance of winning the lottery than being attacked by a shark."
Where sharks are concerned, knowledge is power, Dr. Ferretti said. Understanding the shark's habits – even just via app – could help swimmers stay clear of unwanted shark encounters.
"If we know them, and we know their ecology, then we can take precautions and use the ocean and engage in recreational opportunities," Ferretti said. "These predators are a fundamental part of the ocean function."