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Shark Attacks in North Carolina: How to Stay Safe and Enjoy the Ocean

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North Carolina, with its beautiful beaches, is a popular vacation spot for many tourists. However, as you venture into the Atlantic Ocean, it is easy to spot these majestic aquatic creatures – sharks. With over a dozen species in the region, you may catch sight of some of the most terrifying and beautiful sharks. 

However, the high prevalence of sharks comes at a cost. North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation for shark attacks. Although shark attacks are not uncommon, the most typical reason for these attacks is confusion between humans and their prey. So while the beaches of North Carolina offer picturesque views and a refreshing swim, it is essential to take precautions and be aware of the potential risks.

Why Do Most Shark Attacks Occur in North Carolina?

The American shores in the summer are a hub of activity, with many beachgoers flocking to the sand and surf to enjoy all kinds of water sports. Whether it’s swimming, surfing, or even waterboarding, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in the waves. 

However, it’s important to remember that the deeper you go into the ocean, the more likely you are to encounter a shark. This is because most shark attacks occur beneath the water’s surface, where it’s harder to see. 

  Shark Attacks in North Carolina

Sharks can sometimes mistake humans for their prey, leading to dangerous or even deadly encounters. Additionally, human activities can also disrupt or threaten sharks, causing them to react aggressively.  

How Often Do Sharks Bite People in South Carolina?

South Carolina has become a hot topic due to the increase in shark attacks over the past few years. Despite being sea creatures that are typically seen far from the shore, South Carolina has seen a total of 111 unprovoked shark attacks between 1837 and 2021, some of which were fatal. 

Horry and Beaufort counties in North Carolina are the locations where most of these attacks occurred, and Myrtle Beach and Folly Beach have become known for their increased sightings of these often-dangerous animals. 

If you plan on taking a swim in South Carolina’s beautiful beaches, it’s critical to know that the danger of encountering a shark is a possible reality – but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo a day at the beach!  

What Species of Sharks Inhabit the North Carolina Region?

The waters off South Carolina are home to more than 12 shark species, making it a prime destination for sharks. However, it’s not just any sharks that reside here. Some of the most dangerous and violent shark species in the world call this coastal state their home, including the bull shark, tiger shark, and great white shark. 

But the shark sightings aren’t limited to South Carolina; travellers heading north to North Carolina can expect to come across various shark species, with the tiger shark being the most common. With the abundance of shark species in the region, it’s no surprise that shark sightings are so frequent.

Types of Sharks Found in North Carolina

Here is a summary of the different shark species found in the waters of North Carolina:

  1. Great White Shark: Among the largest shark species, growing up to 26 feet long, they inhabit tropical waters and open oceans. Juveniles prefer staying close to the beach, while adults venture into deeper waters. Although they have been spotted near Carolina’s beaches, most attacks occur in other regions.
  2. Tiger Shark: Known for their aggressive behavior, tiger sharks have a history of attacks in North Carolina. They are often referred to as “garbage fish” due to their varied diet. These sharks can reach lengths of up to 18 feet and prefer warm waters, residing in tropical or subtropical regions.
  3. Finetooth Shark: Commonly found in North Carolina, finetooth sharks can grow up to 6.2 feet long. They prefer shallow coastal waters and rivers during late spring to early fall. Their diet primarily consists of small fish, and they migrate to Florida in winter.
  4. Lemon Shark: Named for their yellow-brown color, lemon sharks are communal and generally not aggressive towards humans. They primarily feed at night and dwell in enclosed bays and shallow coastal waters.
  5. Bonnethead Shark: These omnivores have a distinct head shape with eyes on either side. They are not typically dangerous to humans and can grow up to 20 to 30 inches in length.
  6. Bull Shark: Known for their aggressiveness and involvement in shark attacks, bull sharks are common in North Carolina’s coastal seas. They never swim in water deeper than 100 feet and can grow up to 11 feet in length.
  7. Nurse Shark: Nurse sharks have smooth skin and can reach lengths of about 9 feet. They prefer warm, shallow waters and are often found near wrecks, ledges, and reefs. Nurse sharks can attack if they feel threatened, with most attacks being provoked.
  8. Thresher Shark: Thresher sharks are frequently spotted near beaches in North Carolina and can grow up to 20 feet long. They use their long tails for hunting and are at risk of extinction due to overfishing and other human activities.
  9. It’s essential to remember that shark attacks are relatively rare, and sharks play a crucial role in maintaining marine ecosystems. Practicing caution and respecting their natural habitats can help reduce the risks associated with shark encounters.

North Carolina Beaches with the Most Shark Attacks

Despite the beauty and serenity that North Topsail Beach provides, there have been multiple shark attacks recorded over the years. While it may instil fear in some beachgoers, it’s important to note that none of the attacks resulted in fatalities. One incident that occurred on September 15, 2001, involved a 16-year-old boy named Dale Fulcher Jr., who was surfing when a shark bit his foot. 

Another attack on September 5, 2005, involved Elizabeth Gardner, whose calf suffered severe lacerations from a bull shark. There have been other attacks throughout the years, with two of them taking place in Surf City. Tracy Fasick, a 43-year-old woman, was the victim of the most recent attack on July 8, 2012. Despite these incidents, visitors to North Topsail Beach can still enjoy all the incredible sights and activities that the beach has to offer.

Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach, an idyllic spot in North Carolina, has a dark history of shark attacks. The first recorded attack was back in October 1989, leaving a deep wound in the heart of the beach community. Unfortunately, the damage didn’t stop there. There were multiple other incidents throughout the years, the most recent in 2010 and 2011, causing anxiety for tourists and locals alike. 

As a result, the role of sharks in these attacks has been the subject of many heated debates. What could be causing them to attack, and how can we stay safe? It remains a mystery, but one thing is sure – if you’re planning a visit to Wrightsville Beach, you may want to keep an eye out for shadows in the water.

Ocracoke

North Carolina is known for its beautiful beaches, but it also has a history of deadly shark attacks. The state experienced its first recorded fatal shark attack in the early 1900s, with several more occurring in the years that followed. One attack in particular involved a coast guard employee who tragically lost his life. 

Despite efforts to prevent these incidents, such as beach closures and shark patrols, there have been more attacks in the decades since. In 2015, a 68-year-old man was bitten by a 6-7-foot-long shark while surfing at Lifeguard Beach.  

Ocean Isle

The beaches at Ocean Isle have experienced a slew of shark attacks since 1980, and it’s surprising to learn that children have been primarily involved in most of these assaults. With the exception of one attack in 2019, which was perpetrated by a 19-year-old male, all the other incidents have involved kids. 

The first such attack, which took place on August 10, 1980, involved Susan Waters, a 10-year-old girl, who was still learning to swim when a shark bit her lower leg and knee. Almost thirty years later, in June 2012, another youngster was assaulted, but no confirmation was made regarding the shark’s involvement. Unfortunately, the latest attack took place on June 27, 2021, when a 7-year-old girl was swimming and got bitten on her calf.  

Holden Beach

Holden Beach is a beautiful getaway for those who love sun, sand, and surf. Unfortunately, the area has been known for something other than its picturesque scenery in recent years: shark attacks. In fact, there have been six documented attacks in the region, all of which were completely unprovoked. 

The first took place over 80 years ago when a shark bit a fisherman’s thigh, and the most recent happened in 2013 when a 63-year-old woman was bitten on the foot. While none of the attacks have been fatal, they do serve as a reminder that we share the ocean with creatures that need to be respected and understood.

Carolina Beach

North Carolina is known for its beautiful beaches, but unfortunately, it’s also known for shark attacks. The majority of these attacks occur near Carolina Beach, a popular spot for swimmers and scuba divers. It’s located in New Hanover County and is situated between Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. 

While the waters may seem inviting, it’s important to remember the dangers that lurk beneath. One tragic event occurred in late 1989 when Doug Nunnally, a 49-year-old scuba diver, was found dead. Although a shark’s involvement was heavily suspected, it has never been officially confirmed. Another tragic incident took place in 1995 when a man’s body was discovered.  

Masonboro Island

Masonboro Island is known for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, but the area has also gained notoriety for frequent shark attacks. What’s particularly alarming is that all of these attacks have been unprovoked, making them all the more shocking. The first attack occurred in 1986, when a surfer named J. McCorley was bitten on his hand. 

Almost a decade later, in the same area, Michael Greenwood’s left arm was suddenly grabbed by a shark. And the incidents haven’t ceased, with attacks in 2003, 2006, and most recently in 2014, when Miller Diggs suffered injuries to her left foot. It’s a reminder that even in seemingly idyllic settings, nature can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Shark Attacks in North Carolina in 2021 and 2022

In 2021, North Carolina ranked fourth in the United States for shark attacks, accounting for about 10% of all unprovoked attacks globally, according to the ISAF’s yearly review of shark attacks. The coastal state experienced several shark attacks during that year.

The trend of increasing shark attacks in North Carolina continued from 2021 to 2022. Before 2022, there were around 12 unprovoked shark attacks reported in the state, as noted by the Washington Post. However, in 2022 alone, five additional incidents have already been reported, bringing the total number of attacks to 17 for that year.

The rise in shark attacks in North Carolina reflects an overall regional pattern of increasing shark encounters. It’s essential for beachgoers and water enthusiasts to remain aware of the risks associated with swimming in shark-populated waters and to take necessary precautions to ensure their safety. Despite the rise in shark attacks, it’s important to remember that these incidents are still relatively rare, and sharks play a vital role in marine ecosystems.

Reasons for Increasing Shark Attacks in South Carolina

Drought and Warmer Waters

Scarcity of freshwater during droughts leads to higher salinity near the shore, attracting more sharks and fish. Warmer waters cause sharks to arrive in North Carolina earlier than usual, contributing significantly to the increased attacks.

A Surge of Bait Fish

North Carolina’s coast has experienced an unusually abundant presence of baitfish this summer. Sharks are drawn to these small prey and follow them over long distances. The combination of more people, sharks, and baitfish could be contributing to the rise in attacks, particularly involving bull or tiger sharks.

Fishing Near Swimmers

Sharks are naturally attracted to fishing activities and can detect blood and bait from far away. Fishing near swimming areas can provoke or confuse sharks, increasing the likelihood of biting incidents. Therefore, communities need to be cautious when designating zones for swimming and fishing to minimize shark encounters.

Climate Change

Shark populations are growing due to various factors, including their shifting habitats caused by warming oceans. Climate change has altered the presence of sharks in new locations, leading to changes in their migration patterns. As sharks adapt to changing temperatures, they might be encountered in unexpected places throughout the year. The ongoing global climate change is a reality, with rising temperatures encouraging both increased shark populations and human interaction with them, resulting in more bites.

FAQs

Are there great white sharks in North Carolina?

While this species of shark is typically associated with the warm waters of tropical locales, reports of great white sightings in North Carolina are not unheard of. In fact, researchers have been studying these predatory creatures in the area for decades. 

Are there any sharks in North Carolina?

The answer is yes! North Carolina has a vibrant and diverse ocean ecosystem that attracts a variety of shark species. From the famous Great White shark to the docile Sand Tiger shark, these creatures of the sea roam the waters year-round.

What state has the least shark attacks?

When it comes to shark attacks, it’s natural to feel a bit uneasy when heading to the beach. However, there is actually one state in the U.S. that stands out as having the least shark attacks: Vermont. That’s right, Vermont may be landlocked, but it’s also the only state in the country to have never had a shark attack reported. 

Final Words

North Carolina is not just a popular travel destination in the US because of its beautiful beaches, it’s also known for its diversity of sharks. In the waters of North Carolina, you can encounter both inshore and offshore sharks. With 165 miles of beaches and Sea Islands, shark species have a diverse ecology that supports their survival. 

However, this also makes North Carolina one of the states in the US with the highest number of shark attacks. If you plan to swim in its waters, it’s always best to exercise caution and be respectful of our oceans and the creatures that live within it. Nonetheless, North Carolina’s waters offer shark lovers a unique opportunity to witness these majestic creatures up close.

Reference:

Author Profile
Zahra Makda
Wildlife Enthusiast | Explorer at Animals Research

Growing up enjoying the beauty of my village, a good passion for nature developed in me from childhood. Following my passion for the natural world, I have chosen zoology for my graduation, during my undergraduate degree, I participated in many nature trails, bird watching, rescues, training for wildlife conservation, workshop, and seminars on biodiversity. I have a keen interest in invertebrate biology, herpetology, and ornithology. Primary interests include studies on taxonomy, ecology, habitat and behavior.

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Growing up enjoying the beauty of my village, a good passion for nature developed in me from childhood. Following my passion for the natural world, I have chosen zoology for my graduation, during my undergraduate degree, I participated in many nature trails, bird watching, rescues, training for wildlife conservation, workshop, and seminars on biodiversity. I have a keen interest in invertebrate biology, herpetology, and ornithology. Primary interests include studies on taxonomy, ecology, habitat and behavior.

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