Researchers Debate Shark Species Responsible For North Carolina Attacks

A series of three separate shark attacks that took place off the North Carolina coast last week have spurred researchers to debate what species could be responsible, and whether two of the incidents, which occurred just a few miles apart, could be the work of the same animal.

Last week, a 13-year-old girl was struck by a shark while riding a boogie board at Ocean Isle Beach, suffering several lacerations to her foot. On Sunday, two far more serious attacks happened at Oak Island, inflicting life threatening injuries on a 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy, both of whom lost limbs. As the Inquisitr previously reported, those attacks took place along the same stretch of beach, within two hours of each other.

According to Dr. Larry Cahoon, a biological oceanographer at UNCW, the Ocean Isle attack was likely a case of mistaken identity, as the boogie board resembles a skate or ray, which the sharks prey upon.

“The shark bit the little girl once, but the board twice. It wasn’t interested in her; it was interested in the boogie board.”

Sunday’s attacks, however, were a far different story, as Port City Daily points out. The shark or sharks involved in those incidents acted much more aggressively, and a boogie board didn’t cause confusion. The attacks happened in waist deep water, which leads Cahoon to speculate that a particular species of shark was involved.

“What that suggests to me is one of the more aggressive ones, probably a bull shark. Bull sharks are common in these waters. They have a reputation of being dangerous. That’s the most likely one you’re going to see. Other moderately dangerous sharks–tigers and hammerheads–generally don’t come too close to shore.”

There appears to be little possibility of determining whether the same shark was responsible for the two attacks at Oak Island. Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, a marine biologist with the University of North Florida (who is also affiliated with Ocearch, a non-profit shark tracking group), concurred with the assessment that a bull shark was likely responsible, though not necessarily the same one. He also pointed out recent unseasonably warm temperatures in North Carolina, a factor that he says has likely drawn a larger population of sharks to the region.

“Some of the species that would normally show up in–let’s say July–have started to show up in June because of the heat wave. There are more sharks in the water.”

Officials patrolled Oak Island yesterday by both boat and helicopter, spotting several tiger sharks close to shore, according to WECT, though the animals didn’t pose an imminent threat. Despite their efforts, Gelsleichter asserts that the sharks responsible for the three recent incidents are unlikely to attack again. Instead, their actions can be attributed to conditions that have developed in a way that puts more sharks and beachgoers in the water, leading to a higher chance of interaction. The researchers note that sharks virtually surround swimmers in the ocean, yet the chance of suffering an attack remains rare.

[Photo by Ian Waldie / Getty Images]