Summertime in Maine is tourist season. Recently, summer has brought a new kind of seasonal visitor, one we haven’t quite figured out how to live with, in a change that seems like the new norm.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

I am speaking, of course, about sharks.

Obviously, sharks aren’t new. They’ve been here all along. According to the Gulf of Maine Institute, Maine waters are home to eight different species of shark. We have thresher sharks, basking sharks, porbeagles, sand tigers, shortfin makos, blue sharks, the spiny dogfish and the famed great white.

Talk to divers and fishermen and you’ll soon realize we seem to have a few other species, too, but those are the ones officially recognized here.

In most situations, sharks are not a danger to us. Many are actually providing solutions to problems we face. The spiny dogfish, for example, has a genetic structure scientists are using to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

The great white, however, is the star of Hollywood horror and private nightmares and is also showing up more frequently.

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In 2020, Maine saw the first recorded fatal shark attack in the state. It was tragic, and it rattled the community.

So far this year, there have been several confirmed sightings of great white sharks in Maine waters, including Bobby E, a 12-footer whose identification tag pinged off the newly installed shark detection buoy used to track shark movements in our waters.

I share my life with a diver who works where Bobby E is hunting. So, yes, I understand the fears. I share them. However, sharks are also really amazing creatures.

Sharks have been around for hundreds of millions of years. In fact, as a species, sharks have been around longer than trees. Trees! Isn’t that amazing?

Contrary to the sensationalized press they receive, great whites are not mindless, brutish killers, nor are they hunting us. Humans are not their chosen food. However, to an animal that hunts using shape, light and motion, we have an unfortunate tendency to resemble seals. Seals they do enjoy.

Considered a keystone species in a healthy ocean, sharks not only balance the ecosystem by eating the weak, they’re regulators that indirectly maintain sea grass and coral reef habitats, which aid commercial fisheries and help slow climate change. Sharks also “dampen the effects of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and hurricanes,” according to National Geographic.

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That seems both necessary and apt since climate change is part of why we are seeing more of them. According to a report by Maine Coast Islands, “Great white sharks typically prefer waters between 54 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and Maine’s waters have been slowly creeping into this range in recent years.”

Warming waters are a problem. As the temperature increases, the oxygen in the water is depleted and the inhabitants die. Our oceans are dying. No ocean, no us. No ocean, no anything.

Climate change has brought us warmer waters, and warmer waters have brought us the sharks, but sharks might be part of the solution, thanks to their role in mitigating the effects of climate change and maintaining a healthy ocean. Interesting.

I’m grateful for the scientists studying and learning about these creatures. I’m grateful for organizations such as sharks4kids.com for spreading the word about the amazingness of sharks. I’m grateful Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is tracking their movements (and creating the Sharktivity app), and I’m grateful for sharks playing their part to keep this planet working.

Gratitude aside, I’m also planning to stay out of the water for a bit. You might want to as well. Be safe, be well and stay curious.

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