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NC Shark Attacks Still Very Rare, But Increasing

(c) Greg Carter
Sand tiger shark.

By Megan V. Williams

Wilmington, NC – The news of two regional shark attacks this week might have beach-goers wading a little more cautiously, but experts says the risk is still quite low.

The two attacks both happened in shallow waters, one at Atlantic Beach and the other at North Topsail.

Eric Holtz, an educator with the Aquarium at Fort Fisher, emphasizes that rip currents, and even less obvious dangers, are still a much bigger risk than sharks.

"There was a new statistic that the International Shark File put out that there have been more deaths due to people falling in sand holes, people digging holes in the sand and people falling and being smothered by the sand, than people killed by sharks," Holtz said.

The International Shark Attack File is a website administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History that collects data on shark attacks around the world. It lists 23 incidents - with one fatality - in North Carolina since 1990.

But both the website and Holtz emphasize that continuing increase in beach-goers just makes human-shark run-ins more likely.

"They've survived for millions of years and haven't changed their habits," Holtz says of sharks. "We're a new thing to them. They're curious about us. They want to know. And the more and more of us there are, the higher chances of us being bitten."

The major culprits out of the 50 odd species that frequent the North Carolina coast, according to Holtz are bull sharks, "which inhabit warm shallow water, where people like to go in the water," and tiger sharks, because "they'll eat pretty much anything and they're generally more aggressive."

Holtz says certain factors can make people more tempting to sharks.

He recommends not swimming at dawn or dusk when sharks are out feeding. Wearing bright, contrasting clothing or sparkly jewelry, which can mimic fish scales to the eyes of a shark, is also a bad idea, Holtz says.

The International Shark Attack File