Things to know about NC sharks as television networks kick off Shark Week
Eastern North Carolina residents love their sharks, so long as they aren’t brushing up against their legs in the ocean.
They aren’t alone. Sharks have long been a fascinating creature seen as deadly, but also mysteriously out of reach to most. As Discovery Channel launches its annual “Shark Week” of programming and Nat Geo begins its similarly themed “Shark Fest” this Sunday, the frenzy over these toothy predators of the deep is likely to once again hit a fever pitch.
But what should residents know about the sharks that roam right off the North Carolina coast? Here are the basics.
What kinds? More than 50 species of sharks can be found off the North Carolina coast. While sharks can be found in area waters year-round, the summer is when species such as sandbar and blacktip may most often be seen as they migrate north from places like Florida. Humans aren’t the only ones who like the warmer waters. “They follow the warm water,” said Jeff Harms, an educator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
The bonnethead, sharpnose, dusty and bull sharks are other species that populate waters off the North Carolina coast.
Of note: Harms said the sand tiger shark is a larger shark, growing up to 12 feet, and can be found off the coast year-round. The many shipwreck sites off the North Carolina coast make a great habitat for the tiger shark. Despite their fearsome look, the tiger shark is considered docile, making the shipwreck sites a popular destination for divers wanting to see the sharks in their natural environment.
Most active time? Sharks are most active at dusk and dawn, when the cover of low light can help them sneak up on prey, Dorn said.
Upstream? Sharks can be found in North Carolina’s sounds as well as the ocean, but Harms said if they do head to sounds it is for short periods for food or to migrate through. The bull shark is the species that can most tolerate brackish and freshwater and is most likely the one seen outside of ocean waters, Harms said.
Great white appearance? The great white shark is a deep water predator but is no stranger to the North Carolina coast. A 12.5-foot great white shark named Hilton passed by Cape Lookout on July 15 during his migrations along the East Coast, according to tracking data from OCEARCH.
Coming to town? A number of factors can contribute to more shark appearances in the region, such as the annual warming of the water which brings in more schooling fish, said Brian Dorn, associate director with the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. But Dorn said the biggest influencer of sightings is people. With more and more people moving to and visiting the region each year, he said the chances for a sighting only increase.
More sharks? Dorn said the local population of sharks hasn’t seen any major changes in recent years, save for there might gradually be more of them. He said there is a belief that sharks are making a comeback in numbers, which were previously declining because of the low birth rate of sexually mature sharks.
“We are seeing an evening off or a slower decline,” he said.
Education: The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores held its own Shark Week activities last week and Harms said the goal is to educate the public about protection and conservation of shark species. As one of the top predators of the ocean, they play a vital role in the food web.
“Sharks are vital for the ocean ecosystem,” Harms said.