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SHIP BOTTOM, N.J. – Despite a surge in the great white shark population and several recent sightings off the Jersey shore, beachgoers still plan to hit the beach for the Fourth of July weekend.
A study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists finds that numbers of the great white, immortalized in the film "Jaws," are surging along the East Coast. And in recent weeks, fishermen have encountered great whites off Cape May and Long Beach Island.
But most beachgoers say that won't keep them out of the water. Fisherman T.J. Loughran of Manahawkin says he caught several brown sharks off the beach in Ship Bottom last week, but he isn't afraid of great whites.
"I love to fish and I love the water and I'm not changing a thing," he said. "This is the first time I ever heard of a great white near here."
His wife, Lucy, isn't so sure.
"It does concern me because one of them was close," she said. "But it doesn't bother me enough to keep me out of the water. A friend of my husband caught a sand tiger shark recently, and that freaked me out when I saw all those teeth. But as much as I think about it, I keep going into the water. I know a lot of people are afraid of sharks, but what can you do?"
Skimboarder Logan Sheehan, also of Manahawkin, says most shark attacks are accidental and happen farther offshore than where he boards. But the federal report found exactly the opposite: that great whites are more common along the coast than offshore. People encounter them mostly between Massachusetts and New Jersey during the summer, and off Florida in the winter, the report said.
"Sharks don't bother me," Sheehan said. "They don't really like people; when they do bite, they'll usually spit it back out. They don't take the whole body."
On June 21, a group of fishermen watched with surprise as a 16-foot-long great white snacked on their bag of bait. That encounter was far offshore.
But a day earlier, a fisherman was in his boat only a mile and a half off Long Beach Island — with swimmers visible — when he hooked a juvenile great white shark. It was about 6 feet long and weighed 100 to 120 pounds. Adult great whites can reach 23 feet long and weigh between 1,500 to 5,000 pounds.
"I don't go out far enough so I'm not concerned, but my son is a surfer, so that's somewhat of a concern," said Karen Delmonaco of Ship Bottom. "We've been coming here our whole lives, and it never was an issue. We're in their realm. This is their environment we're coming into."
Laurie Krempa will keep her family at the beach this holiday weekend.
"We're not leaving," she said. "They have lifeguards up and down the coast. If they see anything, I'm sure they'd blow the whistle and get everyone out."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC