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Expert: Hard to pinpoint cause in shark attack spike

Posted June 29, 2015
Updated June 30, 2015

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— Six people have been bitten by sharks off the North Carolina coast within a 17-day stretch this month, but an expert said Monday that trying to find a reason for the sudden spike is difficult.

The spree started June 11 on Ocean Isle Beach, followed two days later by a pair of attacks on Oak Island. Last week, swimmers were bitten off Surf City, Avon and Rodanthe.

"It's hard to draw a pattern out of six instances," said Joel Fodrie, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. "Those events have ranged from near our southern border to our northern border in the state, so you're talking about very different environments, different temperatures."

UNC researchers have been studying sharks in North Carolina since 1972. Fodrie said about 50 shark attacks along the coast have been reported in the last 80 years, and more that 50 species of shark have been documented in the area.

"The vast majority are going to be 3 to 5 feet long and extremely skittish of anything a human might do," he said.

In recent years, he said, the number of larger sharks has declined, mostly due to fishing, which he said has allowed the the population of smaller sharks to increase.

Sharks move to shallow waters for any of three reasons, he said.

"They're looking for food, they're looking to avoid their own predators or a risk they perceive, and they're looking to find a mate at some point," he said.

Fodrie said that, if you're in the ocean, there's a good chance sharks are lurking in the water nearby. But despite the alarming number of attacks this summer, he said the chance of getting bitten is relatively low.

"You have to respect the power of the animals, and you have to respect the fact it can happen," he said. "I don't think you can never dip toes in the water because of sharks. There's a whole lot more dangerous things than sharks for people."


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  • Russell Chapman Jun 30, 2015
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    How about the answer being "it's mother nature" and leave it at that? These things happen so infrequently, there is no answer. Sometimes, bad things happen and there is no reason at all other than "it happens".

  • Kerry Harpe Jun 30, 2015
    user avatar

    The cause is crystal clear. People are not normally on the shark's menu. So, the question becomes "What food source have we destroyed, that resulted in these sharks modifying their dinner options to include people" ??

  • Susan West Jun 30, 2015
    user avatar

    We need an open shark season.

  • Susan Nolley Jun 30, 2015
    user avatar

    The commercial fishermen are reporting large numbers of fish that they pull in in their nets being half eaten, which tells them there is an over abundance of sharks! Of course this is far off shore, so if the sharks are that thick out there, it only stands to reason that there are going to be more up close.

  • Jeff Pridgen Jun 29, 2015
    user avatar

    Have they said what type of sharks or how large they have been?