Consider this, from Shark Uber-Mensch Samuel "Doc" Gruber from his 1988 paper "Why Do Sharks Attack Humans," Gruber states;
"...some attacks can be accepted as legitimate attempts by the shark to feed on humans."
Regular readers will know how passionate I am about avoiding hyperbolic and simplistic reports about these incidents using lazy terminology in place of detailed analysis, I have stated here, in articles and interviews many times that each incident is dependent upon so many variables that the only way to increase understanding of these incidents is to look at every detail available to assess the incident fully. The existence of human objective input into these details is not only problematic in the media, it also leads to inconsistencies in the existing databases where some attacks are not included due to being classed as "provoked," most commonly due to the victim's activity prior to the attack, usually spearfishing.
For the purposes of accurate detailed analysis, I would like to see a "Shark/Human Incident" database which includes all non-voluntary contact encounters between sharks and humans and splits them up into the following categories;
Non-Injurious (including attacks on boats)
As a caveat to the above, it must be noted that, as shark attacks are so infrequent, it is impossible to collect enough reliable data to assess risks in relation to potential future incidents or, put more simply, it is impossible to create a model which will predict when a shark bite on a human will occur. Also, shark attacks are defined by many different variables from the species involved, to the victim, the victim's activity at the time of the attack, the location and various environmental factors. It is inaccurate and misleading to compartmentalise shark attacks into easily digested (pardon the pun) soundbites.
With regards to North Carolina, let's have a look at its history with shark attacks.
June 11th - 13 year old received minor bites to her feet and two bites to her Body Board
June 27th - 18 year old man suffers multiple serious bites to his right calf, buttocks and both hands at Waves, also Hatteras Island
July 1st - 68 year old man receives multiple bites to abdomen, hip, lower leg and both hands at Ocracoke Island
In 2001 (one fatality), 2008 and 2011 North Carolina experienced multiple attacks days and in 1995, 2000, 2004 and 2007 there were incidents on consecutive days, 1995 actually saw three attacks in 4 days.
- There have been 95 unprovoked attacks in North Carolina waters with 11 of those fatal.
- On average there is a fatality every 10.4 years with the most number of fatalities in a single year being two, this has happened only once (1905) since 1900.
- The last fatality in North Carolina was the 2008 attack on Richard Snead although there is doubt whether the injuries he sustained were the cause of his death, or came after he drowned. If we place this attack as "unconfirmed," the last fatality prior to Snead came in 2001, the victim Sergi Zaloukaev.
- Since 2000, North Carolina has seen 55 shark incidents, an average of 3.6 each year
This can be explained firstly, by there being more people in the water due to hotter weather and also, people staying in the water for longer due to increased sea temperature. More people in the water for longer means more people exposed to sharks. The average sea temperature from early June to late August is 83.4 degrees Fahrenheit or in "real money," 28.5 degrees Celsius.
Another factor to consider is the migration and seasonal aggregation patterns of prey animals. During the warm Summer months, bait fish and other larger marine creatures move along the coastline, travelling in large numbers close to shore to try to evade predators in deeper water. This in turn attracts sharks which follow the fish into shallower water and thus, in closer proximity to bathers. Large numbers of prey means larger numbers of sharks close to shore and unfortunately, as we have seen in North Carolina this year and Florida every year, occasionally humans are getting in the way of these sharks, sharks which are in the shallows, potentially motivated by predation.
Blacktips are not a species often involved in shark bite incidents however they have, and do, occasionally bite people although, unlike the Bull Shark, are less likely to mount a sustained attack on a human.
Both species are regularly encountered in North Carolina waters and both will enter the shallows whilst following prey, so for me, these would be the two species most likely involved in incidents such as these in this part of the world. North Carolina is also home to Tiger Sharks, Great White, Dusky, Spinner and the most commonly encountered species there, Sandbar sharks, however, although all have historically been involved in shark bite incidents, I would be less inclined to blame any of these species above the two detailed above.
It's important to recognise a few salient points, firstly, these sharks were off these same beaches last year, the year before, the year before and so on and so on, although shark attacks in the United States have shown an upwards curve in numbers over the last 60 years, this is due solely to there being more people in the water. I've seen claims that people feeding sharks or fishing from the pier has caused the attacks but there is simply no evidence for that. Could warmer than usual water temperatures play a part? Possibly but only because it is having an effect on the migrations and seasonal aggregations of the shark's prey. Sharks go where the food is and right now, the food is close to shore off popular bathing beaches.
There will be more shark bites off America's east coast this year, Florida is unusually quiet at the moment but as the Summer gets hotter and the sea gets warmer, more people are going to be in a position where they may just get in the way of a shark following its natural prey so what can you do to minimise your risk of being bitten?
Firstly, stay out of the water, you won't get bitten by a shark on the beach! If you do however want to go into the sea and let's be honest, I don't blame you, avoid if possible, areas where the water is murky, where people are fishing, avoid swimming near the mouths of inlets or estuaries and if you can, speak to local fishermen, like sharks, they follow the fish and if the fish are in big numbers, there will be sharks there.
Most importantly though, use your brain, you know there have been incidents in North Carolina so if you must swim in those areas, realise it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of both yourself and your family, not the sharks'. Sharks do what sharks do and when you make the choice to swim in areas where you know there is shark activity, you must accept you are taking a risk, it's a small risk of course, but the responsibility is on you.
Try to be shark smart, the best people to talk to about the shark activity in your area are the people who use the beach all day every day, lifeguards and fishermen. If you're not sure whether you should be swimming somewhere, don't be afraid to ask!
Finally, don't panic, shark populations aren't exploding in numbers (quite the opposite) and moving closer to shore to eat people. Although this is a bad year for shark bites in North Carolina, it is unusual and certainly not the norm. Statistical anomalies in areas where shark bites occur, or if you want a simpler description, spikes in shark bite activity where a year's number of incidents exceeds a statistical pattern, however, are not that out of the ordinary. It happens, many places around the world have experienced a flurry of incidents followed by years, sometimes decades without a single bite.
Edit: Case in point regarding misleading and factually inaccurate public statements can be found in this article
"It's commonly accepted that sharks aren't intentionally trying to bite humans, either: "Scientists believe that most shark bites are a case of mistaken identity. From below, a surfer in a black rubber wetsuit looks a great deal like a seal, for example," explains David Shiffman, a PhD candidate at the University of Miami's Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy."This is quantifiably incorrect. None of the victims were surfing, none were wearing wetsuits (which incidentally are made from neoprene, not "rubber") and although some attacks throughout history have been a result of "mistaken identity," it's a tiny proportion and almost always incidents involving Great White Sharks. The notion of "mistaken identity" is misleading because it implies over 400 million years of evolution, sharks are unable to differentiate humans from their natural prey items.
None of these attacks provide any evidence that "mistaken identity" can be used as a reason, especially in the five incidents where the victim sustained multiple bites.