North Carolina Sea Grant

June 17, 2019 | Katelyn Vause

Above: a scalloped hammerhead, one of 50 species that roams North Carolina’s coast. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

By Katelyn Vause

Many people are surprised to learn that “North Carolina is a very sharky place,” notes Chuck Bangley, a researcher now with the Smithsonian. North Carolina Sea Grant funded several of his shark research projects while he was earning his doctorate at East Carolina University, and he now is working on a related study funded by the North Carolina Aquariums.

And while sharks have been in the news in recent weeks for bites while swimmers have been in the ocean surf zone, Bangley notes that estuaries — or inshore, brackish waters — also are important shark habitats. In a story in Coastwatch magazine, he shared results that revealed how bull sharks are increasingly using estuaries, including for nurseries.

The N.C. Aquariums note that of the more than 500 different species of sharks around the world, about 50 species live in North Carolina waters. Of those, 26 species roam within the continental shelf to near-shore waters but are not present in our waters year-round. Some move north and south, and others move inshore to offshore. Some species visit coastal waters based on water temperatures, food supplies and breeding patterns.

While rare both along our coast and worldwide, shark encounters do occasionally occur in North Carolina. On June 2 at Atlantic Beach, Paige Winter lost a leg and two fingers. The teen from New Bern is featured in a video that was shared during a news conference at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where she has been treated for her injuries. In the video, she emphasizes that “Sharks are good people.”

A surfer in Ocean Isle Beach and a youngster on Bald Head Island also had injuries in recent weeks that have been attributed as likely shark bites.

Sharks are the subject of many research endeavors in North Carolina. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for Marine Sciences began collecting data on North Carolina sharks in 1972, and has done so continuously ever since. The Coastal Review Online featured the research in late 2018.

And Bangley’s overview story “Sharks of North Carolina” is one of North Carolina Sea Grant’s most popular online stories for Coastwatch — just one indication that North Carolinians indeed are keen on learning about the state’s shark species.

North Carolina Sea Grant works with many partners regarding shark encounter safety and shark research, including North Carolina Aquariums, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, East Carolina and the UNC Chapel Hill Institute for Marine Sciences. Here are a few quick tips:

Why We Encounter Sharks

How to Reduce Risk of a Shark Encounter

Chances of encountering a shark in North Carolina waters are very low. To further reduce your risk, consider the following:

Sharks by the Numbers

Did you know?

Information and tips include here include some from a news release by the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Download North Carolina Sea Grant’s Shark Sense brochure for a printable document that includes many of the tips listed above.


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