Shark Talk Largely Chatter, Officials Say

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City
Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin dispelled growing rumors and concern about
increased shark sightings off the coast of Ocean City, saying “they are out
there, but no more than usual.”

In recent weeks, Arbin
says that he’s heard a rising chatter amongst beach goers about shark sightings
close to shore but he said this week that there is no reason for alarm.

“I’ve heard the rumors,
and the talk, but honestly we haven’t really seen it,” said Arbin, “so I think
a lot of it is just chatter.”

Media Relations Manager
Jenn Bloomer from the National Aquarium in Baltimore said that there has been a
rise in the number of sightings this summer for large aquatic creatures, due to
the fact that they are simply following the food supply.

“Bait fish have been
running heavy this year, which could explain why we have had some large whales,
dolphins, and rays feeding close to shore,” said Bloomer. “The animals go where
the food is, and sharks are no exception.”

Last month, what was
thought to be a 17-foot juvenile humpback whale was sited by thousands of
beachgoers leisurely swimming close to shore traveling south down the Ocean
City coastline and feeding on schools of Atlantic menhaden.

Captain Mark Sampson,
known as a knowledgeable shark resource, said that the rise in baitfish has
brought bigger creatures closer to shore, but not necessarily sharks.

“We are seeing a lot of
dolphins, and there has been quite an increase with the number of whales
sighted, but we haven’t seen it with sharks close to shore,” said Sampson.
“Usually, on our fishing expeditions, we are out four to eight miles from shore
and we are seeing a good bit of action with catching sharks, but no better or
worse than in years’ past from what I’m seeing.”

Sampson was one of the
divers who tried in vain to save a rare Gervais Beaked whale that had beached

itself on a sandspit in the Assawoman Bay in May.  In addition, several other humpback whales have washed ashore this

season, which seems to be a strikingly high number to some, but Sampson said
the carcasses could just be washing up in areas that have a higher visibility.

“I’m not sure if this is
more than usual, because when a whale dies, the body has to wash up somewhere,”
he said. “If it would wash up on the southern tip of Assateague Island, it
probably wouldn’t get nearly as much attention as when it washes up on a beach
in Ocean City in the middle of the summer.”

Sampson said that
although the conditions are favorable for larger and perhaps predatory fish to
be seen closer to shore, he said beachgoers should revel in the possibility of
a once in a lifetime experience and not fear rumors of sharks in the water.

“I didn’t get to see
that whale that was swimming down the coast, but for all those people that did,
I hope they realize how lucky they were to see something like that,” said