Don't Blame The Sharks For 'Perfect Storm' Of Attacks In North Carolina The state's beaches usually see one shark attack a summer, if any. This year, there have already been seven. But this uptick in attacks is likely not tied to shark populations so much as to our own.
NPR logo

Don't Blame The Sharks For 'Perfect Storm' Of Attacks In North Carolina

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/420237437/420237438" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Don't Blame The Sharks For 'Perfect Storm' Of Attacks In North Carolina

Don't Blame The Sharks For 'Perfect Storm' Of Attacks In North Carolina

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/420237437/420237438" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

Those who spend much time on the Carolina beaches know that many shark species, and even whales, are frequent visitors during the summer. And though it's extremely rare, sometimes those sharks do attack humans. But seven shark attacks off the North Carolina coast alone since June has surprised even the most seasoned shark watchers. We reached out to George Burgess, the director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Burgess.

GEORGE BURGESS: I'm glad to be with you.

NEARY: So just for starters, do we know what is causing this increase in shark attacks?

BURGESS: We have sort of a perfect storm going there with the - a series of things; some that we know and some that we don't, going on. There's environmental factors, such as an early summer or warm temperatures. And of course, it's sea turtle nesting season; when the sea turtles leave the water to go lay their eggs on the shoreline and coming and going, they're pretty vulnerable to big sharks. Of course, it's summertime, school is out, family vacations - never been more people in the water. Now...

NEARY: But is - doesn't happen every summer? What's the difference this summer?

BURGESS: Precisely, I was going to say, now does that explain the seven we've had in three weeks and the answer is no. There's some other stuff going on here that we don't know about - we'll call it an x-factor - probably oceanographic factors are involved.

NEARY: Is there anything in particular that would make a shark attack?

BURGESS: All shark attacks are, of course, fundamentally motivated by feeding and probably 90 percent of all shark bites - they're quick grabs and let-go's by small sharks. But a small percentage of those are done by the big boys and girls - the larger sharks that, when they bite - whether it's intentional or unintentional - results in major injuries, and unfortunately, that's what we're seeing the North Carolina. We've had several of these bites that are the real thing.

NEARY: I believe I read about one man who sort of punched the shark away from him. I mean, is that an appropriate response? Should you try to do that?

BURGESS: Oh, absolutely, yes. There's nothing to be gained by playing dead here. If a shark is actually coming to grab you, if you can give it a pop on its nose, more than likely it will veer off; take advantage of that time, of course, to get out of the water.

NEARY: Do you have any concern that these recent attacks will cause more people to hunt sharks - to try and kill sharks?

BURGESS: Anytime a community has its first "Jaws"-like scare, the first thing that occurs is there's fear in the community; the second, there's denial and then the third is retribution. Let's hope we don't get to the revenge stage. The chance of catching the actual shark that was involved in this are slim to none.

NEARY: You know, with all this news, people might have the idea that the waters are infested with sharks, but what is the shark population really like?

BURGESS: The shark population in the United States and around the world are at, perhaps, all-time lows. On the other hand, the human population continues to rise every year, and we have no curbing of that. And fundamentally, shark attack that is driven by the number of humans in the water, more than the number of sharks. And when areas such as the Carolinas become popular tourist destinations, as they have, there's more people entering the water. You're going to end up having more shark bites.

NEARY: George Burgess is the director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Thank you so much, Mr. Burgess.

BURGESS: So nice to be with you.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.