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Three Shark Attacks Within One Week in Brunswick County: A Scientific Hypothesis

Richard Ling, Wikimedia Commons
Shark swims among a school of fish

In the past week, there have been three shark attacks in Brunswick County – two of them causing serious injuries. A local fisheries expert has a theory about why these attacks keep occurring south of the Cape Fear River’s mouth. 

Dr. Frederick Scharf is a professor of Marine Biology at UNCW. He says the area of these recent attacks is rich in food sources for sharks. That’s because the outflow from the Cape Fear River tends to bend south—right along the Oak Island beaches. That stream of water releases nutrients and suspended solids—fish food, essentially—into the coastal ocean.

"That whole southern coast is really nutrient rich. The water is really turbid—much more turbid than on the other side of the Cape Fear River where the beaches at Wrightsville Beach and Fort Fisher. And those nutrients tend to attract lots of small fishes. And so the small fishes tend to be aggregated in those areas, and so, those are areas where you get lots of apex predators."

In short, he theorizes sharks are attracted to the Brunswick County beaches because of the high fish population, but swimming humans can get caught in the fray.

Scharf says it’s a good rule of thumb to stay out of the water around dawn and dusk, when sharks feed.