The Carolina beaches where sharks are lurking

Shark sightings are on the rise. In the last two years, there have been 14 shark bites along the North and South Carolina coast, from the Outer Banks to Sullivan’s island and many points in between.

NBC Charlotte's Bill McGinty spoke to shark experts, as well as victims of a violent shark attack. WCNC

CHARLOTTE, N.C -- It might creep you out to know that if you're in the ocean a shark is close.  They’re in the shallows and the waves where you body surf.

You can’t see them because they blend, but they are there.  

The Carolinas are number four on the list for most shark bites in the United States.

  1. California
  2. Hawaii
  3. Florida
  4. Carolinas

A man on a pier at Myrtle Beach recently captured on video sharks in the surf and very close to the beach.

A woman was also recently bitten at Folly beach just this month, she was surfing, sitting on the board, just waiting for a wave.

And then there’s Patrick Thornton from Ballantyne.  He was bitten by a bull shark or black tip at the Outer Banks a few years ago.  He was swimming in the ocean after a storm.

“It put puncture wounds in my back,” Thornton said.

He said the shark “just kept coming at him."  His sister Colleen was watching from the beach and said the shark "literally jumped up out of the water at him”. 

Thornton did what you are supposed to do if you find yourself on the business end of a shark.

"He (the shark) was wrapped around me, so I started hitting him and punching," Thornton said.  "Then used my elbow to kind of jar him loose.”

Amanda Brewer swims with sharks, both in cages and out.

“They’re so graceful and beautiful and so misunderstood,” she said.  

Brewer is a shark conservationist and helped found Sharkservation.    Brewer gets about as close as you’d want to get to a shark.  In fact, she took the amazing pictures featured below of Great Whites on one of her cage dives in South Africa.  

Brewer has never been bitten and prefers to call bites “encounters”.  She too says the best thing to do if you encounter a shark is to fight.  Punch, kick and go for the eyes if you are being bitten.

“If you are laying back and just letting it happen, they could mistake you further for prey," Brewer explained.  "But if you are fighting back, they’re going to likely let go and keep moving.” 

Most shark attacks are mistakes, the result of murky or stirred up water and bad timing. 

If you see a shark don’t freak out and don’t make sudden splashy movements to get out of the water or back on a boat.  Most bites happen in only three feet of water.

So how do you avoid an unwanted encounter?

  • Don’t swim when sharks are active, early morning and late evening
  • Don’t swim near a pier where people are fishing and chumming the water
  • Be leery of swimming near sandbars and inlets because that’s where sharks hang out to hunt for fish to eat.

“So if you are swimming in areas like that, then you are definitely increasing your risk of an encounter,” Brewer said.

Most of the sharks posing a danger to swimmers in the shallows of the Carolinas include the Bull shark and the Black Tip shark.  Both have been known to attack humans.  Bull sharks can be aggressive and unpredictable, according to experts.  They can adapt to brackish and fresh water, so it’s quite possible to find a Bull shark in rivers and lakes that have access to the ocean.

Tiger sharks and Great Whites swim off the Carolina coast too, although experts say they usually hang in deeper waters.

Two more things to consider.

  1. We all love taking our dogs to the beach and even swimming with them, but the experts say that’s not a great idea because their movements may attract unwanted attention. 
  2. Same thing for shiny jewelry, in the water, bracelets, rings, and necklaces can reflect the sun and look like fish scales to a shark.

So where have the Carolina attacks/bites happened?  There were eight documented shark attacks in the Carolinas in 2015:

  • 2 Outer Banks
  • 1 Ocracoke Island
  • 1 Surf City
  • 2 Oak Island
  • 1 just north of Sunset Beach
  • 1 just north of Hilton Head

There were six documented shark attacks in the Carolinas in 2016:

  • 2 Atlantic Beach (just weeks apart in June)
  • 1 Sullivan’s Island
  • 2 Myrtle Beach
  • 1 North Myrtle Beach

And while it’s unnerving to think about, here’s some context:  You are more likely to be hurt in a car accident on the way to the beach than bitten by a shark at the beach. 

It’s also worth pointing out that worldwide, there are about four to seven fatal shark attacks each year, yet man kills millions of sharks for sport and food.

One shark expert said if people were on the shark’s menu, there would be thousands of attacks given the tens of millions of people going to the beach.

Brewer is currently working on a documentary film called “Monsters” and you can follow here.


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