Using the weather to predict shark attacks

Weather Stories

Nashville, Tenn. (WKRN)– For those of us who’ve seen Jaws one too many times, going in the ocean might seem a bit scary. But what if we could avoid a shark’s ferocious bite by being able to predict when and where shark attacks are likely to happen?

Thanks to Joe Merchant, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, and Dr. Greg Skomal, a researcher in Massachusetts, that might actually be possible!

After years of combing through data, and observations, Merchant and Skomal have figured out that shark attacks are more likely when sea breezes are present. As their research has shown, sea breezes help to bring phytoplankton closer to the surface of the water, as well as to the shoreline. From there, it’s a food-chain reaction. Fish go after the phytoplankton, seals go after the fish, and sharks go after the seals. When those seals are just to close for comfort, sharks will follow. Often, shark attacks happen because a shark has mistaken a human for a seal.

So, how do we put all this data to use? The next step in Merchant and Skomal’s research is to create a model, with sea breezes as a parameter. That model could be put to everyday use by ocean-front counties.

Their hope is that, in the same way meteorologists use the Storm Prediction Center as a guide for the likelihood of severe weather, their shark/sea breeze model would be a resource for beach-goers.

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