Local News

Marine Experts: Russian Couple Was Attacked During Sharks' Feeding Time

Posted September 6, 2001 8:46 a.m. EDT

— The recent shark attacks may seem surprising and scary to us, but people who live and work at the beach -- particularly fishermen -- say they are not shocked at all and that the encounters were bound to happen.

Douglas Smith, an avid fisherman, says it is not unusual to catch sharks in the waters off of Hatteras Island.

They're here sometimes and sometimes, they are gone. They come up in the surf when they catch fish in the surf," he says.

Marine life experts say the reason for a fatal shark attack in Avon is fairly simple: both people were in the water at feeding time.

Officials say Sergi Zaloukaev, 28, and his girlfriend, Natalia Slobonskaya, 23, were headed back to shore, just about 40 feet away from land, when they were attacked Monday by a shark at the Outer Banks.

According to George Burgess, director of the

International Shark Attack File

, the intensity of the Avon attack indicates the shark was feeding.

"Once it grabbed, it maintained contact and continued in an aggressive way,'' Burgess said. "That would suggest to me that the animal realized what it was doing and was going after what it viewed as an appropriate food item.''

Zaloukaev, of Arlington, Va., died as a result of the attack, and autopsy results have confirmed that it was a shark that bit him. Slobonskaya, of Vienna, Va., remains in critical but stable condition at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Va. Her left foot was severed in the attack.

It was the first fatal attack off of North Carolina's coast in 44 years.

Marine life experts say a bull or tiger shark was responsible for the incident. The species migrate through North Carolina waters in Fall and have been known to attack people. A bull shark tore the arm off a boy in Pensacola, Fla., in July.

Still, experts say there is nothing peculiar about the number of recent shark attacks.

"There really are no more (attacks) than would be expected by chance in a given year. There have been more fatal attacks than usual, and those are the ones that get most of the attention," said Dr. John Miller, a zoologist at N.C. State. "You're much more likely to be struck by lightning at the beach than have an encounter with a shark."

An aircraft flight made Wednesday morning from the North Carolina-Virginia border to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina observed only two sharks, 50 yards offshore, two miles south of Avon. A second flight will be conducted this evening by the Coastal Patrol Base 16 of the North Carolina Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, a division of the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Officials say beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore will remain open.

The number of U.S. shark attacks has risen slightly during the past decade, according to the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, Fla. Biologists attribute the increase to more people in the water.

The five attacks reported in North Carolina last year were highest in state history, the Shark Attack File said. One attack was reported in South Carolina waters last year. Florida led the nation with 34 attacks.