FORT FISHER — Summer means hitting the beach and, for many, that means sharks.
Next month, of course, the Discovery Channel will air its 30th year of Shark Week. While Discovery’s programming aims to be informative, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the danger–and potentially deadly outcome–of human-shark interactions. At local beaches, those interactions are surely on the minds of swimmers, surfers and boaters.
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It should come as no surprise to visitors to the beach that sharks inhabit the waters off North Carolina. In fact, 50 different species can be found here, according to Robin Nalepa, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. That number is relatively small compared to the more than 465 different species worldwide.
Of those 50 sharks found off the North Carolina coast, only 26 species are found within the continental shelf to near-shore waters. And those aren’t typically found in the waters here year round, Nalepa said.
“The most common species of sharks along the North Carolina coast during the summer months (these are not in any specific order): blacknose, spinner, finetooth, bull, blacktip, sandbar, tiger, Atlantic sharpnose, nurse, scalloped hammerhead, bonnethead, sand tiger, white shark,” she said.
“Sharks are vital to the Ocean eco-system. Some are apex predators. Others are positioned at various levels in the food chain but serve an important role in a healthy, balanced ocean.”
Sharks are undoubtedly predators and evoke strong feelings of fear from some, but is their reputation worse than deserved?
“Sharks have a bad reputation yet the statistics actually prove when a shark-human encounter occurs it usually ends badly for the shark … It is estimated that 100 million sharks per year are killed by humans. That breaks down to 190 per minute,” according to Nalepa.
The bulk of sharks that are killed annually are due to shark finning; about 70 million sharks are killed each year just to harvest the dorsal fin — the rest of the shark is discarded while the animal is still living. The process of shark finning is illegal in the United States and last year new legislation was introduced to outlaw the sale of shark fins altogether.
Shark statistics show out of the 465 species worldwide, less than 10 percent of them are considered dangerous or credited with human and shark interactions.
These fish play a role in the ocean’s ecosystem and while they can cause some anxiety, the oceans need sharks.
“Sharks are vital to the Ocean eco-system. Some are apex predators. Others are positioned at various levels in the food chain but serve an important role in a healthy, balanced ocean. If sharks disappear from the ocean it would have a catastrophic impact,” Nalepa said.
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