‘There’s a growing awareness’: DEM estimates 4-5 shark sightings at RI beaches so far this summer

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WLNE) – After two sharks were spotted in Rhode Island waters in one week, the state’s Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is giving insight on shark sightings and the species often seen.

So far this summer, the Atlantic Shark Institute has detected four sharks in Rhode Island waters on their acoustic array. The institute was able to tag two sharks near Point Judith.

As for sightings, Mike Healey, a spokesman for the DEM, said in total there have been four or five sharks spotted from state and local beaches in the Ocean State so far this season.

He said the number of sightings isn’t abnormally high, but the frequency is due to people becoming more aware of them and better technology for detecting them.

“I think there’s a growing awareness of, you know, our waters are very fertile, and that there are lots of different kinds of sharks,” Healey said. “In the case of great whites, those are threats. Most sharks though are pretty much just, they’re just out there trying to eat the next meal.”

That was the case for the shark spotted in the water at Narragansett Town Beach on Thursday. A thresher shark was seen, and swimmers were told to stay out of the water for a few hours.

A thresher shark was also spotted in the water at a Charlestown beach last weekend.

“They’re probably the most common shark we see around Rhode Island,” Healey said. “What they do is they swim really fast, they chase big schools of baitfish, and in the case yesterday, a marine biologist saw huge schools of menhaden down there so…it’s the summertime, food is abundant, the shark is just doing what a shark does.”

While the thresher isn’t a harm to humans, the protocol is to evacuate the water.

“The Narragansett Town Beach did absolutely the right thing which was they cleared the water of swimmers for… it probably was for more than an hour because that fish was swimming around for a while. At the time you’re not sure what kind of shark it is.”

On Friday, folks were enjoying the beach in Narragansett although some were wary.

“I would freak out probably. It’s not every day that you see that so that would be a big deal I think,” said Jack Chaney of Chicago, who’s visiting Rhode Island for a few days.

Others knew people who had a close encounter with the shark. Joe Beksha of Narragansett said his sister was in the water Thursday and didn’t even realize there was a shark.

“I called her back when she got home and I said, you know you were swimming and there was a shark out there waiting for you! She goes, you’re kidding! I go, no it was just on the news. I wouldn’t be afraid but I wouldn’t go near it because they’re a smart animal. They’ve been around here a long time. Everyone has cameras and everything now they’re sighted more probably,” Beksha said. “It didn’t surprise me. It’s the ocean.”

Healey shared some tips to be seen in the water, saying it’s important to swim with a buddy, be aware of your surroundings, stay within swim areas and listen to beach managers.

© WLNE-TV 2021

Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island