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article imageHalf-eaten catches signal return of sharks to Outer Banks

By Karen Graham     Jul 3, 2015 in Environment
Complaints by fishermen who are reeling in half-eaten fish, as well as an apparent increase in shark attacks along the North Carolina coast are making headlines. Everyone planning on going to the beach has been freaking out, wondering what's going on.
For several weeks, fishermen along the Outer Banks of North Carolina have been reeling in fish after fish, almost all of them bitten in half by sharks.
“It’s really heart wrenching when you catch a $1,000 fish, and you can’t get it to the boat. It’s nothing but a chunk of mangled up meat,” fisherman Glen Hopkins was quoted as saying by WTKR.com.
“At least 2/3 of your catch is going to be eaten before it ever gets to the boat. The sharks have gotten to the point where they are just following the boat,” another fisherman, Britton Shackelford said.
For the past three weeks, there have also been a number of shark attacks, and numerous videos have been popping up on social media pages, showing sharks, lots of them, along the Outer Banks. Shackelford says he sometimes sees thousands of them (sharks).
The fishermen think the problem stems from strict shark fishing laws that went into effect several years ago, They are complaining the shark population has grown too large. But is that really the problem?
Lunar cycles, warmer water and bait fish make for the "Perfect Storm"
One expert has a different take on the increase in the number of sharks off the North Carolina coast this year. Frank Schwartz is a marine zoology professor at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. He has studied sharks for 48 years in North Carolina, and 13 years prior in Maryland,
In talking about the three recent shark attacks in the Outer Banks, and the incidents earlier this month off the southern coast of North Carolina, he said, “They were at the wrong place at the right time. A lot of things came together at the same time. It was a kind of perfect storm for shark attacks.”
Schwartz spoke with the Outer Banks Voice. He explained that a long, cold winter delayed the arrival of warmer water, as well as the summer sharks. But the recent spike in temperatures has warmed the waters offshore, and sharks love 80-degree F. water.
The warmer water has caused the sharks to converge along the shore, as well as beach-goers, but the sharks are not purposely seeking out humans to eat. The sharks are chasing baitfish, and this makes them aggressive toward people who might be in their way.
“They might be following the food or ripples in the ocean,” Schwartz said. “The water temperature determines when they’ll be here, or when they won’t be here.” He said that come September when the ocean temperatures cool down to 70-degrees F., they will leave.
Schwartz suggested swimmers stay away from the rough ocean during the new and full moons, and "don't go splashing around too much.” He also said he can't be sure, but the sharks are probably bull, spinner or tiger sharks.
Lee Nettles, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, says they have been receiving lots of calls from vacationers, wanting to know if the beaches are safe. Besides assuring people that there are several lifeguarded beaches, he also tells them shark attacks are very rare.
“When it comes down to it, there’s 100 miles of shoreline, and it’s a wild environment,” he said. “It’s like going into the forest. It can be very beautiful, but you might see a bear . . .Usually, nature is our strongest calling card. But now it’s giving us pause.”
More about North carolina, sharks converging, Outer Banks, warmer water, bait fish
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