Sharks: Fact Vs. Fiction

Andy Fox goes diving with the sharks at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. (Courtesy:
Andy Fox goes diving with the sharks at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. (Courtesy:

(WAVY) — In 80 years of record keeping, never have there been more shark bites along the North Carolina coast than this summer.

There have been eight cases of shark bites reported along the North Carolina coast since June. Although two of the victims lost limbs, none of the attacks ended in death.

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Despite this being the most active year for shark attacks in North Carolina, data gathered by the Florida Museum of Natural History finds shark bites are very rare. You have a far greater chance of getting killed by lightning, drowning, a collapsing sand hole, a tornado, accidents around the home, an attacking dog, rip currents, bears, and alligators.

There is something about a shark, though, something you don’t see coming, that sends fear, trepidation and terror through a coastal region, like ours.

Capt. Chester Bailey has been with the Chicamacomico Water Rescue Team for 21 years. He was there for the June 27 shark bite on Rodanthe Beach.

“I got a call over the radio. We had a shark attack. We already had a truck on scene. We didn’t believe it because we never had to deal with that before. It was in fact a shark bite,” he said.

One day earlier, there was a shark bite near Avon.

“Dare County 911, what is the address of the emergency?” The caller just screams “Shark attack … the shark is noticeable. He was bit in the back … older man.”

Capt. Bailey claims sharks have chased beach goers out of the Outer Banks surf.

“There aren’t many people in the water this year,” he said. “A month ago we pulled 45 people out of the ocean from riptides, but we haven’t pulled anyone out in two weeks. So, people are definitely staying out.”

Fact or Fiction?

Tourists don’t care, and the shark scare doesn’t affect them. That is fiction. Tourists like Joey Elias do care. He keeps his two sons close at hand.  “Well, because of the attacks that have happened recently, to be honest with you.  We are just trying to stay shallower than waste deep water.  It seems that’s where the attacks have happened,” Elias explains.

Here’s the fact. The OBX vacation is not quite the same this year. Elias’ 8-year-old son Collin admits he is scared, “There have been a lot of shark attacks.  He (my dad) said don’t go deep in the water because I could get bit.”

Fact or Fiction?

It’s been a bloody summer in North Carolina. That is fact. There have been eight shark bites since June 11, which is much higher than normal at this point of the season.

Fact or Fiction?

More than normal bait fish along shore have brought more sharks to shore, leading to more than usual bites. That is a fact.

“So we are seeing so many sting rays, we are seeing so many menhadens and other fish; this has been a big year reproductively for other animals,” says Brian Dorn, Director of Husbandry and Operations at the North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo on Roanoke Island.

Fact or Fiction?

There have been so many shark bites because sharks prefer eating humans.  That is fiction.  Humans are not a natural or normal food source for sharks.  Unfortunately, humans sometimes get in the way of sharks when they are going after their dinner.  Dorn says, “When they bite into something as big as a human it scares them. They will grab and let go and swim off.  Unfortunately, because of the way they test and taste, it causes a lot of damage and could cause death too.”

Fact or Fiction?

If you see a shark coming at you, play dead. Experts say that is fiction.  Don’t play dead; fight back hard the best you can.  Punch the shark hard in the nose, the gills, gouge his eyes.

At the Florida Museum of Natural History, George Burgess is quoted as saying, “One should not act passively if under attack. Sharks respect size and power.”

These are all accepted facts leading to the perfect storm for shark bites in North Carolina.

-Warm early summer
-Warmer than usual water in April
-Saltier water due to lack of rain
-More people in water
-More people fishing from piers

“It comes down to more people in the water.  It is summertime and it gives more opportunity for interaction with animals,” Dorn explained.

Experts say these are all fiction:

-It’s safe to swim in water near fishing piers. It is not.
-It’s safe to swim with open wounds. It is not.
-It is wearing shiny objects. It is not.
-It’s safe to swim at dawn and dusk which are shark feeding times. It is not.
-It’s safe to swim after storms when bait fish are churned up attracting shark feeding frenzies. It is not.

Here’s a fact: Capt. Bailey is honest about whether he would let his children in the ocean. Laughing, he said, “I would tell them to swim in the sound, but there are sharks in the sound too.” He said tourists ask him all day long if there are sharks in the ocean. Of course, he tells them yes. “The second question they ask him is if he would go into the water. “I would, ‘yes.’ It is safer in shallow water.  I wouldn’t go in over my head.”

11-year-old Collin Elias represents the new reality. “I like going into the ocean, swimming, boogie boarding, but this year, I can’t do all that because there have been too many shark attacks.”

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