Local News

Do Sharks Have A Bad Reputation When It Comes To Humans?

Posted May 9, 2002

— Time Magazine

labeled summer 2001 as "Summer of the Shark" after several fatal attacks on the East Coast, including one in North Carolina. Since 1957, there have been 19 shark attacks in North Carolina. Seven of them came in the last two years. Scientists say it is because more people are in the water, but how do sharks really respond to people?

Fishermen on the Avon Pier at Hatteras Island catch sharks all the time. This year, it seems like an everyday occurence. Roy Robertson has been fishing these waters for 45 years.

"I've seen more here this week than I've ever seen in a week's time," he said.

"Sharks are Outer Banks inhabitants. They live in our waters. They always have lived in our waters. They always will be there," said North Carolina aquarium educator Terri Hathaway.

The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island features local shark species in its "Graveyard of the Atlantic" exhibit. The 285,000-gallon tank is about the size and shape of a baseball infield and is home to five sharks.

"I'm definitely not as afraid of them as I was, especially that first dive. I still have a lot of respect for them," dive instructor Wynne Hopkins said. "Even when I'm in here, I try to stay out of their way as much as possible."

"People see us in the water with the animals. They see us interacting with the animals and realize these animals really pay little attention to people," dive instructor Pat Murphy said.

Surfer Patrick Bruff is not afraid of sharks either, although he has every right to be.

"I'm going out there and I'm the one who got bitten by a shark. I'm confident enough that it won't happen again," Bruff said.

In July 2000, a shark attacked Bruff while he was surfing along Wrightsville Beach.

"I just knew something grabbed my foot and looked down and saw it was a shark. The second it bit me, I looked down and saw it and knew what it was," he said.

Attacks like the one on Bruff are rare. Experts say you are more likely to be hit by lightning than attacked by a shark. Still, when it happens, it is big news.

Last fall, a swimmer was killed by a shark in Avon. It was the first fatal shark attack in North Carolina in 44 years. The news of the attack sent shock waves through the Outer Banks.

"There's nothing about Outer Banks beaches that would have prompted this shark attack. Shark attacks happen worldwide, very rarely, but they happen worldwide and I think our beaches here are just as safe as any other beach in the world," said Mary Doll of the National Park Service.

"You know a lot of the interaction comes because there are more people in the water," North Carolina aquarium educator Terri Hathaway said.

Hathaway said there are ways to stay safe in the water.

  • Don't swim where people are fishing, for example around piers.
  • Don't wear jewelry or bright-colored clothing that could attract sharks.
  • Don't swim at times when sharks feed close to shore.
  • "Low-light times, dawn and dusk. Those are not the times to be in the water," Hathaway said.

    Scientists claim that, with a healthy dose of common sense, it is possible for humans to co-exist peacefully with sharks.

    "We just got to remember we're going into the shark's territory every time we go into the ocean, and we have to be respectful of that," Hathaway said.

    Some fisherman believe that restrictions on catching sharks along the East Coast has also lead to an increase in some areas. Last year, there were 76 attacks worldwide. Florida has the highest number of shark attacks with an average of 37 for the past few years.


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