A summer of shark bites - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

A summer of shark bites

CCU Professor Dan Abel CCU Professor Dan Abel
CCU Professor Dan Abel CCU Professor Dan Abel

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Most people have heard about the recent shark attacks along the Carolina Coast.

WMBF News Anchor Christel Bell looks into the truth behind recent shark attack and dispels some of the myths.

If you love the ocean, marine experts say you have nothing to fear.  One shark expert says although this summer has seen a higher number of shark encounters, a lot of what is happening here on the Carolina coast comes down to chance and fate.

Some recent shark attacks are putting some beach-goers on edge.

“I have not gotten in the water as much as I usually do because of the shark attacks, even though I really haven't heard of any here,” tourist Kyra Brown said.

There have been at least ten attacks in the Carolinas since June 7th; seven of them in North Carolina and three in South Carolina. This is more than the normal average for the whole year.

Coastal Carolina University Marine Science Professor, Dan Abel, is a nationwide shark expert and he admits the number of bites seen recently is high.

“Normally along our shoreline, the North and South Carolina shore line, the Grand Strand area, we normally get 0 to 3 bites a year,” Professor Abel explained.

Professor Abel says it has been years since a series of shark bites like this were making headlines.

“The last time we had this many serious bites that I can remember was back in 2001 and they called that the summer of the shark,” Professor Abel stated.

Some marine experts say they do not like the term “shark attack.” They say a better way to describe what is happening is “shark interactions,” because they believe it is humans who are getting in the shark’s way.

“The sharks, that's their home. That's their home and we have to respect the ocean,” tourist Amber Freeman said.

Professor Abel and his Marine Science students at CCU have spent hours in the deep blue studying the different species of sharks in our ocean, their behavior, and why they do what they do.

“Our water is very inviting, but it's very murky, and sharks have an array, very sophisticated senses, so if you are in the water, chances are a shark knows you are there and doesn't target you at all, but occasionally some of these sharks are very swift-moving, and they bite first and ask questions later,” Professor Abel said.

Some of the bites have been more aggressive. This was seen when the two teens in Oak Island, North Carolina lost their limbs when they were attacked moments apart on June 14.

Many of the sharks migrate up from the tropics following their food sources. This is mating season for some species.

“The first type is probably the black tip shark, we have an abundance here, a very sleek, fast-swimming beautiful animal - rarely causes any type of damage with the people. The other kind might be a bull shark or a lemon, or perhaps a tiger shark, and their bites they have serrated teeth and they shear when they bite and might cause serious damage,” Professor Abel said.

Sharks are really not targeting people when they step in the ocean waters.

There are truths and myths about sharks.

One myth is that chemicals are involved in attracting sharks.

“With abundant food in the water, and with sharks migrating through here this time of year, it’s a combination, it’s been called a perfect storm for sharks,” Professor Abel explained.

A truth is that warmer water temperatures affect a larger presence of sharks.

“The water is a little bit warmer than it typically is this time of year and its lots of prey in the water for sharks, there's red drum, there's mackerel, there's blue fish, there's smaller fish like menhaden that the next highest level feeds on,” Professor Abel said.

Another myth is that sharks swim in groups.

Professor Abel says most sharks are loners but there may be groups for feeding or mating, depending on the species.

Even though no one is specifically sure why this summer has brought an increase in shark encounters, it should not stop you from enjoying the ocean.

“The biggest myth is when you go in the water there is a high likelihood that you'll get bitten by a shark,” Professor Abel said.

According to The Wildlife Museum website, the odds of getting attacked by a shark are one in about 3.7 million. A person is much more likely to die in a car accident where the odds are one in 84; get struck by lightning with odds of one in 79,746; or even die from fireworks where the odds are one in 340,733.

“You know driving over here, people texting almost ran over me several times - far more greater risk, and yet nobody doesn’t get in their car for fear that they are getting hit or run over by someone,” Professor Abel expressed.

He calls the recent shark encounters unfortunate tragic incidents, but he hopes it will change people’s fear of the ocean and make them respect it more.

“If it increases our awareness of the oceans, and the fact that it is a wilderness and there are sharks in there  and that we need sharks in the ocean. We are far more of a danger to them than they are to us,” Professor Abel stated.

Abel says sharks tend to be in our waters at the same time as many tourists. This is when the days get longer, and water temperatures are around 70 degrees.

On the flip side, when days get shorter and water temperatures drop,  these animals often migrate away from the Carolina coast.  

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