North Carolina Shark Attacks on Rise Because More People in Water, Experts Say

RALEIGH, N.C. (The News & Observer/TNS) -

Shark attacks like the ones that took place along the North Carolina coast this past weekend have increased during the last few decades, but experts believe that reflects human, not shark, behavior, as more and more people spend time in the ocean.

North Carolina has averaged about three shark attacks per year in the last decade, up from a little more than one a year on average in the 1990s, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. There have been similar increases nationwide.

And it’s not because there are more sharks; many shark species are actually in decline due to overfishing and habitat loss. Instead, it is likely a result of a growing human population and better reporting.

Most shark bites result in minor injuries, such as cuts to feet and hands. Those kinds of bites are likely the result of smaller sharks mistaking the splashing of an arm or leg for the movements of a fish or other typical prey. Four such incidents were reported off the North Carolina coast last summer.

In fact, only 11 of the 90 shark attacks documented in North Carolina since 1900 were fatal, according to the Shark Research Institute. Of the 1,974 attacks reported nationally during that time, 156 people have died.

The first of the three North Carolina attacks took place Thursday on Ocean Isle Beach, where a 13-year-old girl was injured. Then on Sunday, two more teenagers were injured in separate incidents on Oak Island. It appeared both teens could lose limbs as a result.

The seriousness of those injuries probably indicates a larger shark.