Shark Attacks in North Carolina 

North Carolina is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, providing a perfect habitat for over 40 different species of sharks, including the infamous great white shark.

The state has had more shark attacks than any other state on the East Coast – North Carolina ranked fourth in the US in 2021 in terms of shark attacks! The warm waters and abundant prey attract sharks to the shores of North Carolina, leading to an increased risk of interaction between humans and these apex predators.

While the risk of a shark attack is still relatively low, it is essential to understand the potential dangers and take precautions to reduce the risk of an encounter with a shark.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common types of sharks found in North Carolina and their behavior, as well as what to do if you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. 

So, let’s dive in!

Why Do Most Shark Attacks Occur in North Carolina? 

As mentioned earlier, there are several reasons for the recent increase in shark attacks in North Carolina.

Let’s have a look at why:

1. Climate Change

Drought and warmer waters can affect the behavior of sharks and other marine life in North Carolina, potentially leading to more shark attacks. 

Drought reduces freshwater availability, leading to a more saline environment that can attract more sharks and fish. 

Warmer waters can cause sharks to migrate earlier in the year, bringing more of them to North Carolina waters during the peak swimming season. 

2. Popular Beaches

North Carolina has a large coastline and many popular beaches, which means there are more opportunities for humans and sharks to interact.

During the summer months, there are more people visiting the beaches and participating in water activities, which means there are more chances for human-shark interactions. 

2. Confuse as Bait Fish

When humans are in the water, they may be mistaken for prey. This is because sharks have poor eyesight and may mistake a swimmer or surfer for a seal or other prey.

3. Disturb the Sharks

When people swim or surf in areas where sharks are known to be present, they may unintentionally disturb or agitate the sharks, which can lead to an attack.

It’s also worth noting that not all shark attacks are the same. In some cases, sharks may be defending their territory or feeling threatened, while in other cases, they may be curious or simply mistaking a human for prey

4. Fishing Close to the Sharks

It’s a fact that fishing activities attract sharks, and they can detect blood and bait from far away, which makes them more likely to bite. However, fishing also confuses and hurts sharks, which may contribute to an increase in shark attacks.

Do a lot of sharks live in North Carolina Waters?

There are over 12 different species of sharks that can be found in the waters off the coast of North Carolina. 

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Here are the 8 most common sharks responsible for attacks.

1.  Great White Shark

The great white shark, one of the largest shark species on the planet, can grow up to 26 feet long. Juveniles stay close to the beach, while adults go hunting in deeper waters.

2. Tiger Shark

The second most aggressive shark species in the world, Tiger Shark, is the most common shark found in North Carolina. Although it’s found far from the coast, it occasionally does come to hunt fish. 

3. Finetooth Shark

Finetooth sharks prefer shallow coastal waters and have 13-14 rows of teeth on their lower jaw and 12-15 rows on each side of their upper jaw. They are typically small in size.

4. Lemon Shark

Lemon Sharks are known for being social and communal and are generally not a threat until provoked.

5. Bonnethead Shark

These super dangerous sharks have a particular head shape with eyes on each side. They’re mostly common during June and October.

6. Bull Shark

Bull Shark boasts of being the third most aggressive shark species and is responsible for most of the North Carolina attacks. These sharks don’t swim in water deeper than 100 ft, so watch out for them.

7. Nurse Shark

The smoothest of all sharks, Nurse Sharks, are also responsible for many attacks, but mainly after being provoked.

8. Thresher Shark

Mostly found during winter and spring, the Thresher Shark is huge and is found near the coast. However, it’s now an endangered species owing to overfishing. 

North Carolina Beaches with the Most Shark Incidents 

To avoid shark attacks, it’s best to steer clear of these shark hotspots in North Carolina.

1. Topsail Beach

North Topsail Beach has witnessed multiple shark attacks, but fortunately, none of them have been fatal. On September 15, 2001, a 16-year-old boy named Dale Fulcher Jr. was surfing when a shark bit his foot. Another incident occurred a few years later, on September 5, 2005, where Elizabeth Gardner suffered severe lacerations on her calf due to a bull shark attack.

2. Ocracoke

After incidents in 1945, 1988, and 2011, one incident caught everyone’s attention. A 68-year-old surfer was attacked by a 6-7-foot-long shark at Lifeguard beach. The victim’s list and lower leg were affected.

3. Holden Beach

A total of 6 attacks have been recorded at this beach, and none of them was fatal. The most recent one was in 2013 when a shark bit a 63-year-old lady crossing the lake.

4. Masonboro Island

All the attacks on this island have been unprovoked. People who were surfing and swimming were attacked. The most recent one was in 2014, when a girl named Miller Digs was attacked, sustaining wounds on her left foot.

5. Wrightsville Beach

After a fatal attack in ‘89, there have been several other reported shark attacks in the area, including incidents in 1995, 2000, 2002, 2010, and 2011. Details about the 2011 attack were limited, but it was confirmed that a shark was involved and the victim was a 12-year-old child. Fortunately, none of the attacks in Wrightsville Beach has resulted in fatalities since the 1989 incident.

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6. Ocean Isle

Mostly children were the victims on this beach. The most recent incident was in 2021, where a 7-year-old girl was swimming, and a shark lunged on her calf.

7. Carolina Beach

The hub of shark attacks, Carolina Beach, has seen the most shark attacks in North Carolina. A man died while scuba diving, and another one was found drowned, with shark bites all over him. Both these incidents are from the ‘90’s.

How To Survive a Shark Attack- or Avoid It Altogether?

1. Avoid areas where there is a fishing activity

Whether commercial or recreational. When entering the water, it’s essential to look around and identify any fishing boats in the vicinity. Discarded fish, fish parts, and gutting activities can all attract sharks to the area, so it’s best to avoid these locations.

2. Avoid deeper channels between the shoreline and sandbars farther out 

Shark encounters are more likely here, as prey fish and other animals tend to congregate there. 

3. Avoid Dusk and Dawn

Visibility in the water is reduced, and sharks may have difficulty identifying objects and distinguishing them from potential prey.

4. Avoid Shiny Objects

Shiny objects such as jewelry, watches, or reflective gear can resemble the scales of fish and attract sharks. It’s best to avoid wearing them in the water if possible.

5. Ask a Lifeguard

Local lifeguards are often knowledgeable about the local environment and can give you valuable tips on where to swim and where to avoid. 

They can also inform you of any recent shark sightings or other potential hazards. It’s always a good idea to be informed and prepared before going into the water, especially in unfamiliar places.

What To Do When You Encounter A Shark?

If you find yourself in the water and encounter a shark:

  1. It’s important to remain calm and avoid thrashing around, which can signal to the shark that you’re in distress and an easy target.
  2. Instead, try to maintain eye contact with the shark.
  3. Slowly back away while keeping your eyes on the animal.

If the shark attacks:

  1. Try to protect your vital areas, such as your head, neck, and torso, by using your arms or any available objects. 
  2. Remember to fight back aggressively, hitting the shark’s eyes, nose, or gills if possible.
  3. Finally, once you’re out of the water, seek medical attention immediately, even if the wounds appear to be minor, as shark bites can lead to serious infections.
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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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