More People, More Sharks Leads To More Bites

Jun 19, 2019

Credit UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

So far this season, three people have been bitten by sharks at North Carolina beaches.  Some speculate the recent shark interactions may be caused by climate change or an overpopulation by sharks off our coast, but the explanation could be much simpler. According to Joel Fodrie, associate professor of Marine Ecology at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences, an increase of people at the beach comes at a time when sharks are moving into North Carolina waters.

"As the water is warming seasonally, we've had a lot of sharks overwintered off of Florida, even farther south and they're making a northern migration, a typical seasonable migration.  This is the time of the year, May and June, where we see spinners, black tips, duskies, and silkies, and sandbars.  We have a lot of different species that pass by our coast.  This is the time of year when they’re arriving as the people are all arriving to enjoy the beaches.”

More aggressive species of sharks, like tiger and bull sharks, are also passing by North Carolina as they migrate northward.  For the most part, sharks tend to avoid humans.  In the past eight decades, about 80 bites have occurred in North Carolina waters.

“Any time you spend hours in the water over multiple days, you’ve probably had a shark come within a few hundred yards of where you are,” said Fodrie.  “Sharks are cueing in a lot of different things, sound, smell, electromagnetic, and they’re pretty highly evolved.  So 99.999% of the time, they’re not cueing in on the things that humans do.”

Shark encounters are rarely fatal.  The last confirmed shark fatality happened in 2001 off Hatteras Island. Fodrie said more people have drowned because of rip currents this year than in the recorded history of shark bites in North Carolina.