Shark sightings keep tourists away after authorities impose swimming bans

Kyodo

An increasing number of shark sightings at beaches across Japan this month is affecting tourism, with visitors shunning popular summer destinations where authorities have imposed swimming bans.

Sharks have recently been spotted at several beaches in Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Shizuoka and Kagoshima prefectures. In Ibaraki, about 20 sandbar sharks and what is thought to have been a hammerhead shark were sighted in Hokota and Kashima earlier this month.

The sightings have prompted authorities to implement measures to prevent possible attacks on swimmers.

At popular Oarai Sun Beach, the biggest beach in the Kanto region, Ibaraki prefectural officials have set up a 1.7-km-long safety net about 300 meters offshore and increased routine water patrols.

“I’d like to help bring tourists back to the beach,” said a local fisherman who took time off from work to help install the netting.

Officials in Shonan, Kanagawa Prefecture, a popular spot near Tokyo, banned swimming near Chigasaki Southern Beach after more than 30 hammerhead sharks were spotted Friday.

According to the Chigasaki Municipal Government, the popular tourist destination, which usually draws up to 5,000 visitors daily during the annual Bon holiday, attracted only 1,700 visitors on Saturday and 1,500 Sunday as a result.

“Normally we receive the biggest visitors during the Bon holidays,” said 33-year-old Satoshi Inoue, who works at a seaside clubhouse in the area.

“Compared with normal years, the number of customers and sales fell sharply. It’s a huge blow for us.”

The sighting of a shark fin near Kujukuri Beach, on the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture, prompted authorities to temporarily ban swimming in that area.

The timing is unfortunate as the local community is trying to promote the area as a possible surf spot, now that the International Olympic Committee is officially considering adding surfing to the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“It’s rare that so many sharks approach the coast,” said Akihisa Osawa of Kamogawa Sea World, an aquarium in Chiba Prefecture that is home to some 11,000 marine creatures. “We believe the sharks may be trying to chase fish which have changed their migratory patterns as a result of soaring air and water temperatures.”

Osawa did not confirm, however, whether this year’s high temperatures have had something to do with fish migratory patterns and the movement of sharks.

Meanwhile, Keiichi Sato of the Okinawa Churashima Foundation’s Research Center said sightings of schools of hammerhead sharks in the middle of summer is common, as they often travel north along Japan’s eastern coast.

“Maybe more people have reported having spotted sharks after the topic was covered by the press,” Sato added.

He said that while there is a low risk that hammerhead sharks will attack humans, compared with great white sharks, it is appropriate to keep an eye on their movements and deploy safety netting to guard against possible attacks.

“Tourists should also refrain from swimming and boating alone offshore,” he said.