Increase in seal population could contribute to recent shark sightings

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(WPRI/AP) — A shark expert at the University of Rhode Island says sharks tend to bypass the state during the summer because there aren’t that many seals.

But this year, University of Rhode Island (URI) Professor Dr. Brad Wetherbee said it’s possible the shark sightings are increasing because the seal population is also increasing.

“It’s a common thing with wild animals, when there is a source of food then the animals show up,” Wetherbee said. “So I think that’s what’s happening up there.”

Wetherbee tells Eyewitness News that seals in Rhode Island migrate north for the summer for places such as Cape Cod.

Cape Cod sees thousands of seals in the summer, which draws sharks like the one that attacked a New York man Wednesday.

The 61-year-old man has been hospitalized with deep puncture wounds.

Wetherbee says a shark attack in Rhode Island waters is possible, but it is highly unlikely. He says more people are killed by elephants than sharks.

“You’ve got an increase in the number of sharks, and you’ve got millions of people in the water… then once in awhile there’s bound to be some kind of interaction,” Wetherbee said.

Records show the state has not seen a fatal shark attack since researchers started gathering data in 1958.

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