New app allows beachgoers to share shark sightings

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 19: A Great White Shark is attracted by a lure on the 'Shark Lady Adventure Tour' on October 19, 2009 in Gansbaai, South Africa. The lure, usually a tuna head, is attached to a buoy and thrown into the water in front of the cage with the divers. The waters off Gansbaai are the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks, due to the abundance of prey such as seals and penguins which live and breed on Dyer Island, which lies 8km from the mainland. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Northeast beachgoers are no strangers to shark sightings. Now they can share news of those sightings in real time with friends — and scientists.

A new mobile app called Sharktivity allows users to track where sharks have been seen along the coast. They can also submit their own sightings.

There is science behind the app, too. Sharktivity is being launched by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that works to protect white sharks, also known as great whites. And it was developed in part by marine biologist Gregory Skomal, who has worked at the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries for 29 years.

Skomal and his team plan to vet each sighting that is submitted.

The app includes the locations of some of the 80 sharks that researchers have already tagged. So far, it’s available only for iPhone users.

“Most people have phones with them at the beach, and the reasoning is getting information to them as soon as possible,” said Conservancy President Cynthia Wigren. She said the app could be useful for not just beachgoers, but also boaters, fishermen and even pilots along the East Coast.

Until now, lifeguards and emergency responders could notify others of a shark sighting or incident only after the fact, according to Leslie Reynolds, chief ranger for the Cape Cod National Seashore.

With the app, Reynolds said, the public can “report shark sightings in real time and receive alerts in real time.”

The app also includes shark safety tips and a button to let users donate money to shark research.

The Division of Marine Fisheries holds a database of great white shark sightings that dates back to the 1800s, Skomal said. Information from the app can help them expand their records, he said.

There has been a significant growth in the Cape Cod great white shark population in recent years, up from 68 in 2014 to 141 in 2015.

At the same time, Reynolds says lifeguards have been reporting an increase in visitors, recording more than 1 million annual beachgoers during the 10- to 12-week summer period in the past three years.

“People are interested and want to see them, asking lifeguards about the sharks,” Reynolds said.

According to the Global Shark Attack File, there were 59 shark attacks in the United States in 2015, with one fatality in Hawaii.

Wigren said the app should not draw people into harm’s way.

“We clearly cannot control what the public does, but hopefully with this information, people will be more aware and cautious,” she said.