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What To Do If Encountering A Shark

Albert Kok
Wikimedia Commons
Two teens suffered a shark attack on Oak Island Sunday

Two teens survived a shark attack Sunday on Oak Island. The 16-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl were attacked separately about 90 minutes apart from each and suffered severe injuries to their left arms.

Just last week, a shark attacked another teen on Ocean Isle Beach in Brunswick Co. Since 2005, North Carolina has seen 25 shark attacks. While none of these attacks have been fatal, they have resulted in serious injuries.

North Carolina's hot summer months are a prime time to hit the beach, and beach-goers and boogie-boarders should always keep their eyes open while the surf's up. Paul Barrington is the director of husbandry and operations at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher about 20 miles on the coast from Oak Island.  He said everybody should be aware of sharks, but it should not keep swimmers out of the water.

Barrington said there are a few key things to remember when facing a shark.


  • Remain as calm as possible, slowly swim away keeping your eyes on the shark.
  • Stay in groups while in the ocean and swim in shallow waters.
  • If an interaction is inevitable, hit the shark on the snout as hard as you can. The snout is right above the shark's teeth but it is the most sensitive part of the animal. The gills are another sensitive area on the shark.
  • Remain in a defensive posture until the shark swims away. Sharks will not stick around if they feel seriously threatened.
  • Be on the lookout for a lot of concentrated bird activity over the water. The birds are an indication of action in the water.

When you are swimming with a shark, Barrington says


  • Grab the shark's tail. It will immediately spin around and lash out in defensive nature trying to protect itself.
  • Swim early in the morning, late afternoon or late at night when sharks are generally active.
  • Go into the water if you are bleeding because blood can attract sharks.
  • Swim close to piers because there is a lot of bait from fishing activity.

Barrington said sharks pick up movement in the water and use that as a cue to let them know food is nearby. Fish swimming around make a certain sound that sharks recognize and hunt down and people swimming or boogie-boarding in the water can make a similar sound.
"It is that classic scenario where an animal is going to mistake that sound for their food or fishes," Barrington said.

He added that the latest shark attacks have all happened near the Cape Fear River estuarine system where sharks often go to reproduce. Their offspring then get flushed out along the coast near Oak Island. Recently, high winds have also caused murky waters, making it more difficult to see what may be swimming around you.

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
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