North Carolina is a “Sharky” Place. Here’s What You Should Know

50 different species of shark live off the coast of North Carolina


June 20, 2019 

The habits of NC sharks

There are more than 500 different shark species in the world an 50 of them call North Carolina’s waters home. Of those, 26 species roam within the continental shelf to near-shore waters but are not in the area year-round. While some sharks are moving up and down the coast, others are moving from inshore to offshore. Some sharks only visit depending on water temperature, food supplies and breeding patterns.

The good news is that of those 500 species of shark worldwide, fewer than 10% are considered dangerous or known to have been involved in attacking humans. Still, there are sharks in the state’s waters.

Advice from the experts

North Carolina Sea Grant has worked with many partners regarding shark encounter safety and shark research, including North Carolina Aquariums, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, East Carolina and the UNC Chapel Hill Institute for Marine Sciences.Here are a few tips:

Why we encounter sharks

• Most shark encounters with humans are cases of mistaken identity. Swimmers, surfers and others in the water may splash and present visual targets that mislead the shark, causing it to mistake people for prey.

• Most encounters occur in near-shore waters, between sandbars, or near steep drop-offs where sharks feed. Sharks frequent these areas because their food supply is there.

• In these instances, a shark may bite, only to realize the human is a foreign object or is too large. The shark will then immediately release the victim.

• As coastal areas become more populated and visitation to beaches and coastal waters increase, more shark encounters are likely because of the increased number of people in the water.

How to reduce risk of a shark encounter

Chances of encountering a shark in North Carolina waters are very low. To further reduce your risk, consider the following:

• Always stay in groups. Sharks are more likely to mistake a solitary individual for prey.

• Do not wander too far from shore. This isolates you and places you farther away from assistance.

• Avoid being in the water during dawn, dusk, darkness or twilight hours. This is when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.

• Do not enter the water if bleeding. A shark’s sense of smell is acute.

• Don’t wear shiny jewelry in the water. The reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.

• Avoid waters where there are signs of baitfish or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such activity.

• Sightings of dolphins do not indicate the absence of sharks. Both often feed on the same prey.

• Avoid wearing brightly colored contrasting clothing in the water. Sharks see contrast particularly well.

• Refrain from excess splashing to minimize your risk.

• Exercise caution when swimming between sandbars or near steep drop-offs. These are favorite hangouts for sharks.

• Leave the water if sharks are sighted. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one.

—Frank Graff

 Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.