Dangerous N.C. Sharks
Q: What is the most dangerous shark in North Carolina?
A: That's a difficult question. There are some 400 known shark species in the world, and 56 of those species are known to frequent North Carolina's coastal waters. While the great white shark is probably the most publicized dangerous shark, it rarely comes close to our shore, preferring the edge of the Carolinian continental shelf.
From 1935 to 2009, statistics kept by the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida list 34 confirmed, unprovoked incidents of sharks biting people in North Carolina waters, three of which were fatal. Most shark bites are thought to be cases of mistaken identity - a shark looking for food and mistaking a person or a person's appendage for a fish. The majority of these encounters are attributed to bull sharks.
Other sharks that frequent North Carolina waters and may be prone to be involved in biting incidents are the tiger, mako, dusky, blue, blacktip, great white and hammerhead. Some sharks, including the bull, tiger, blacktip, dusky and hammerhead, can tolerate varying levels of salinity, which allows them to enter estuaries and rivers and increases their potential for encounters with humans.
Bull sharks appear from spring to fall in coastal, inshore, estuarine and often fresh water, before migrating southward. Sharks can frequently be seen just past the breakers near shrimp trawlers, feeding on fish that escape the nets. Sharpnose sharks are the most abundant inshore shark, and juvenile black tip and spinner sharks are sometimes caught on hook and line by surf fishermen. Small hammerheads and their relatives often forage near fishing piers, feeding on migrating schools of fish.
Sharks are one of the ocean's top predators and help maintain balance in the oceanic food web. A number of populations are declining, which could have a tremendous impact on the natural order of the world's oceans. Humans harvest thousands of pounds of shark annually for food, medicine, leather and jewelry. Many sharks are killed needlessly out of fear.
With shark populations showing declines in certain species, some states are imposing fishing restrictions on specific species. This may seem like a good idea; however, sharks don't recognize state boundaries and many migrate seasonally. To make a significant impact, states will need to work together with the National Marine Fisheries Service to impose and enforce restrictions.
Sharks are mysterious animals shrouded by centuries of collected myths. Scientists have been able to dispel many of these myths, but there is still much to learn.
The state operates three public aquariums: one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island.
For more information about the Aquariums, visit www.ncaquariums.com, or call (800) 832-FISH.
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