String of Unusual Shark-Related Incidents in the Carolinas
If you live in the USA and have been following the news, you may know that there have been a sharp increase in shark incidents along the coasts of North and South Carolina. Since mid-May, there have been 10 recorded shark-related accidents on beach-goers. The annual average for this location is usually 6/year.
(The most recent shark-related incidents along the Carolinas coast. Map is from CNN).
So what’s going on?
Scientists cannot pinpoint a specific reason, and a number of theories have been flying around, especially from the major media outlets.
One is that the proximity of fisherman from the beach was of particular concern in last weekend’s attacks. Bait and dead fish is likely to attract the bigger predators, and with swimmers nearby, it might not be the best mix.
Another popular theory is that drought conditions in the Carolinas have led to decreased fresh water runoff and thus to saltier sea water, which sharks prefer. Moreover, baby sea turtles and menhaden fish have been more plentiful than usual, providing more attraction for the sharks, and another potential explanation for these incidents. It is also possible that their usual food supply has been depleted or has changed its patterns. Overfishing, habitat destruction and increased sport fishing, with its baiting of sharks, also may be bringing the sharks closer to shore.
(A Great Hammerhead shark cruises in the Bahamas. Photo by Austin Gallagher)
Finally, it may also be due to the simple fact that there are more people in the water. The Earth is as populated as it has ever been, and with the warming waters, people tend to go to the beach more. The increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans in turn increases the opportunities for interaction between the two parties.
24/7 news and social media coverage tends to exaggerate the danger. You are actually more likely to have an accident driving to the beach than being bitten by a shark at the beach. Check out this list of everything that’s more likely to kill you than a shark. Yes, vending machines are more likely to kill you than a shark!
Shark ‘attacks’ are still rare events, and rare events tend to cluster occasionally and get our attention when they do. It is tempting to look for pattern and for cause-and-effect when this happens, but we do not really have any scientific information on this particular event in the Carolinas, and it is thus hard to rule out any theory. It is probably one of those things listed above, but we cannot pinpoint a specific one quite yet.
(Photo by Fred Buyle).
People just have to be smart about it. Don’t go swimming at dusk or dawn, and avoid swimming where there is a lot of fish activity. Sharks have more to fear from us than the other way around. Millions of sharks are killed every year, many for just their fins or incidental to commercial fishing for other species.
We are not on the menu, because if we were, nobody would ever go in the ocean. I really do not like using the term “shark attack”, as it has a negative connotation and implies that sharks are purposefully out to get us. Sharks are not out to get people, and we have to respect that they are top predators and that the ocean is their territory, and we are just guests in it.