MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – Shark Week captivates viewers across the country, and many right here in Eastern North Carolina.
Experts say the ecosystem along the Crystal Coast is perfect for the diverse species of sharks. With more than 50 species right off the North Carolina coast, researchers from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences say they’ve been able to study their changes for decades.
“The research started here,” said Joel Fodrie, a professor of estuarine ecology at the institute. “Just trying to figure out which shark was which, we didn’t even know that in the 70s.”
He said that biweekly, they release over 200 hooks in order to monitor the populations and changes.
“We pull them up and we count all the sharks, we get lengths, we get sexes,” said Fodrie. “We tag the sharks and then we release the sharks.”
When the study first started over 50 years ago, Fodrie said they saw larger sharks, like hammerheads and tiger sharks, but over time began to see smaller species instead.
“We think that in the late 70s, early 80s, there was a big effort to harvest sharks for things like meat and even shark skins,” said Fodrie. “Sharks are slow to mature, they don’t produce a lot of babies at any one time. So we think they’re a type of species that’s tailor-made to overharvest.”
The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores focuses its research on old shipwrecks to track shark movements.
“We have an array of acoustic receivers placed along a few of our wreck sites off the coast here. And we’re actually picking up on acoustically tagged sharks that are out there, specifically sand tiger sharks,” said Diving Safety Officer Ethan Simmons, who works at the aquarium.
If people see a sand tiger shark while scuba diving, they can be a part of the Spot-a-Shark program and snap a picture of it.
“They have a lot of spots on their side. And that is like a fingerprint unique to that shark,” said Simmons. “So by seeing many different images of sharks off the coast of North Carolina, we can actually figure out where different individuals are hanging out, where they’ve been seen.”
Simmons and Fodrie both said most sharks spend their time finding food, finding a mate and avoiding risk. So if you see a shark while out in the water, they likely will not bother you, if you don’t bother it.