Shark Facts and Safety Tips

Shark-Clipart-1According to the International Shark Attack File, ten individuals have been attacked by sharks so far this year along the coasts of North and South Carolina.  Six is the average annual number of shark attacks along this two-state coastline.

To reduce the risk of encountering a shark while in the water you should do the following:

• Always swim with a group.  Sharks are more likely to attack an individual swimmer.
• Do not wander too far from shore.  Doing so increases your vulnerability and places you further from help.
• Avoid going into the water during darkness or twilight hours.  This is when sharks are most active and can bring their sensory advantage to bear.
• Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound.  Use caution if menstruating.  A shark’s olfactory ability (sense of smell) is acute.  The presence of even small traces of blood from recent minor cuts or bruises may precipitate a shark attack.
• Do not wear shiny jewelry (e.g., bracelet or watch) because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
• Avoid waters being used by sport fishermen, particularly if they are chumming or baiting the water to attract fish.
• Avoid waters where there are indications of feeding activity such as diving seabirds.
• Do not assume the presence of dolphins indicates the absence of sharks.  Both dolphins and sharks feed on the same prey.
• Exercise caution in cloudy water and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing.  Sharks have excellent vision, but lack visual acuity.  They can easily mistake a human for natural prey.
• Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets into the water because of their erratic movements.  Sharks are attracted to motion.  They also possess the ability to sense the bioelectric field generated by an animal’s nerves and muscles.
• Exercise caution when swimming in areas between the beach and offshore sandbars or near steep drop-offs.  These are prime shark feeding grounds.

What to do if you are approached or attacked by a shark:
• If approached, stay as still as possible.
• If attach is imminent, defend yourself.  If bare hands are your only available weapons, concentrate your blows against the shark’s delicate eyes and gills and sensitive snout.

It is believed that a number of environmental factors such as warmer water and drought conditions may be contributing to this increased frequency of shark attacks.  Drought conditions have reduced the amount of freshwater influx into coastal waters resulting in higher salinities.

These higher salinity waters are attracting more prey fish such as the large schools of herring spotted close to the North Carolina coast in recent weeks.  These and other prey such as baby sea turtles maybe drawing a greater number of sharks closer to shore. The increased incidence of shark attacks is also, in part, a function of the greater number of people entering the water.

Most shark attacks occur between the beach and offshore sandbars or areas with steep drop-offs.  These are the areas where sharks congregate to feed on their natural prey.

An individual’s chance of being attacked by a shark in the United States is 1 in 11.5 million.  The probability of being killed by a shark is less than 1 in 264.1 million.  Annually there are more deaths in this country resulting from lightning strikes (average 38) than from shark attacks (average less than one).  When on the beach, one has a significantly greater chance of dying from drowning or cardiac arrest than from shark attack.

There are two types of shark attacks:  provoked and unprovoked.  Provoked attacks occur when an individual touches, pokes, teases, spears, hooks, nets or otherwise aggravates the shark.  Conversely, unprovoked attacks are initiated by the shark.

There are three categories of unprovoked attacks:

Hit-and-run attack.  This is the most common type of attack.   It typically occurs in areas of poor visibility such as the surf zone or in murky water.  In most cases the attack is believed to be the result of mistaken identity. The shark confuses the victim for its natural prey, inflicts an exploratory bite, and then quickly leaves. Some of these attacks may also be due to territorial or dominance behaviors unrelated to feeding.  The victim typically does not see the shark and the injury is usually confined to non-fatal lacerations on the leg below the knee.
Sneak attack.  This is the most fatal type of attack, usually involving swimmers or divers in near shore or deeper waters.  The attack occurs without warning and is believed to be the result of feeding or antagonistic behaviors.  The victim does not see the shark coming and typically sustains multiple severe bite wounds.  Repeat attacks are common.
Bump-and-bite attack.  This type of attack also involves swimmers or divers in near shore or deeper waters.  The shark circles and often bumps the victim before finally attacking.  Repeat attacks are common and bites can be severe or fatal.  This type of attack is also believed to be the result of feeding or antagonistic behaviors.

—Submitted by Barry Shedrow
SIPOA Environmental Committee

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