Fisherman encounters great white shark off coast of Cape May

The movie "Jaws" was released 39 years ago this month so by now we're certain it's more than safe to go back in the water. Or is it?

Over the weekend, a fisherman off the coast of Cape May, N.J., had a semi-pleasant (no one died) encounter with a great white shark that came snooping near the man's 35-foot boat. The 16-foot shark hung around about 20 minutes, according to Steve Clark, the vessel's owner, and didn't leave without getting a taste of a bait bag filled with chum that was hanging from the boat.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a study earlier this month reporting a significant increase in the number of great white sharks seen in the western Northern Atlantic. The report in the journal PLOS ONE said "white sharks [sightings] primarily occurred between Massachusetts and New Jersey during summer and off Florida during winter, with broad distribution along the coast during spring and fall."

So that should leave Ocean City relatively in the clear, right? Well, not so fast. Beyond the fearsome great white is a whole range of shark species that can cause injury if not death.

A few weeks ago, a teenager standing in just 5 feet of water was bitten by a juveniile sand bar shark off of Cape Henlopen in Delaware. He needed some 25 stitches to close the wound to his arm.

The last time a great white was seen near Ocean City was in January 2013 when the so-called "Mary Lee" made an appearance - at least on radar. The 3,600-pound, 16-foot shark had been tagged by OCEARCH, a nonprofit research group that utilizes a Global Shark Tracker to trace the movements of sharks through pings from a tagging device. The pings for Mary Lee tracked her up and down the Eastern seaboard, most recently off the coast of Charleston, S.C.

According to OCEARCH, pings from another shark - "Genie" - were transmitted from off the coast near Ocean City within the last 30 days.

But there's no need for beachgoers to panic. Shark-human interactions are few and far between. According to the NOAA report, there have been only 649 confirmed sightings of great white sharks since the 1800s.

 So go on in, the water is (probably) fine.

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