Local researchers study sharks’ impacts on the Crystal Coast

Crystal Coast

Bull shark swimming towards camera, Beqa Lagoon, Beqa, Fiji (Getty Images)

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) — When you think of marine or aquatic animals, people may first think about fish, crabs or almost any other creature that may be just below your feet.

There’s a lot more than meets the surface.

In fact, local researchers say sharks are an integral component of the Crystal Coast. Over 50 different species of sharks have been seen in North Carolina’s waters. Scientists, researchers and lifeguards say it is important to know they don’t want to harm you.

“If you are in the ocean, there are sharks that are there with you … but if they are, they aren’t looking for you,” said Dr. Bob Hueter, chief scientist for OCEARCH.

OCEARCH is a global nonprofit that has been studying great white sharks since 2016.

“That led us to places from Nova Scotia to Florida and has really recently focused our attention to the waters of North Carolina. That is a very important habitat for the white shark in the North Atlantic,” Hueter said.

In March of 2021 their work led them right to the Eastern North Carolina Coast.

“Two female sharks right off Onslow Bay in Morehead City,” Hueter said.

Hueter said the study of the two female sharks, named Freya and Charlotte, can help with keeping their populations in the future. He and local researchers say other species are even able to come up in freshwater areas.

“One of those is the bull shark, which will come into the estuarine bays in the summertime,” Hueter said.

He also believes sharks could be mating along the Carolina coast. Ara McClanahan, an assistant researcher at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, supports this hypothesis.

“It’s something important to know because it’s important we protect that habitat they might be using for reproduction,” McClanahan said.

McClanahan said that sharks are very different from most fish, long-lived, slow to reproduce and when they do, they do not have many. She also said while people are mostly scared of sharks, a lot of species happen to be quite small and occupy multiple levels in the food chain.

“So sharks as a whole are very vital to maintaining the balance of the food web,” McClanahan said. “We have bull sharks around here and other species you might not see so much in the sound.”

Oceanic Rescue Coordinator William Mithaias from Emerald Isle Fire Department said you are not the food they are looking for. He said don’t swim near fishermen because their shiny hooks and lures can attract sharks. Also, be smart about schools of fish close to the ocean and when they may break away.

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