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We Asked A Shark Expert What's Really Behind All These Sightings

The 'Jaws' theme isn't exactly our idea of a summer jam.

This year’s World Surf League’s J-Bay Open competition was eclipsed by the shadow of one small dorsal fin. Pro surfer Mick Fanning’s viral near-miss with a great white shark sent chills down the spine of literally everyone who’s ever set foot in the ocean. We all saw how close it lurked by him. We all thought about Huntington Beach, California. And North Carolina. And again, North Carolina.

What. The. Fin.

Are there sharks everywhere? What is causing this? Why. Why. Why are they coming so close?

MTV News talked to shark expert Ralph S. Collier, Founder and President of the Shark Research Committee and Director of the Global Shark Attack File in Princeton, New Jersey. Collier has worked with sharks for over 50 years. He's investigated shark behavior and acted as a consultant in forensic evidence relating to fatal shark attacks.

Collier gave us the low down on what's actually at play in what appears to be the shark week that never ends.

  • First of all, there are more white sharks. And that’s good news.

    Great white sharks were thought to be on the brink of extinction as recently as 2011, but now the WWF lists them as a vulnerable species.

    “We probably have a few more sharks because the white shark has been protected now for more than 15 years, and so sharks born 15 years ago are reaching a point where they’re starting to become more sexually mature and now reproduce,” Collier explained.

  • They’ve always been there. We're just only seeing them now.

    According to Collier, many of the sharks aren’t new; our ability to see them is.

    "The observations have been increased and heightened by using new technologies," he said. "In Orange County, they are now using small drones and sending them out to observe sharks from above. Prior to that, you had to wait for someone to see the shark that was in the water -- a swimmer or a surfer -- and then they would report to the life guards ... The life guards had to look out, but you really can’t see beyond the breaking waves ... In the past, where people saw maybe one or two sharks, in actuality, there were probably many more than that.”

  • It’s totally normal for these sharks to be in shallow water...

    ...and there’s really no need to freak out.

    “These sharks that stay in shallow water, they’re neonates,” Collier explained. “The reason they’re in shallow [water] is because that’s where their food is. The juvenile sharks feed on bat rays. They feed on halibut. They feed on a lot of fishes ... We’re not on their menu.”

    These baby sharks are in the shallow water because that's where the fish that are small enough for them to hunt live, he said.

  • Afraid of sharks? The feeling is mutual.

    “It’s not that they’re chasing surfers," Collier said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you watch and observe these animals, you’ll see them actually swim amongst these surfers and avoid them. You’ll see them turn and go away so that they don’t have an intersecting course with an individual ... It’s a natural instinct to avoid humans."

  • But don't ditch your sense of reason if you run into one.

    So what do you do if you spot that ominous floating triangle? “Common sense goes a long way,” Collier said. “If the shark appears to be agitated, and you’re uncomfortable with its attitude toward you, leave the water. Try to do it as smoothly and calmly as possible. If you thrash around, you could appear to be a struggling animal, which to a shark tells them that that animal is injured [or] in trouble and now that animal will move in for the kill.”

    But the truth is, the main way to stay safe at the beach is to drive cautiously on your way there: "Quite frankly, you are more likely to be injured driving your car to the beach then you are being injured by a shark at the beach. They’re very, very rare, these events."