Every week is Shark Week for researchers in Morehead City

Animals

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) — It’s Shark Week and with it brings fresh curiosity about sharks and other ocean creatures.

For one group of coastal researchers, Shark Week is every week.

“If you’ve spent any time in the water at all, you’ve probably been near a shark,” said Joel Fodrie, a professor at UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. “We have well over 50 species that visit our waters and over 20 species that are pretty common.”

Fodrie has studied sharks and other ocean creatures for his entire career.

“There was a time where maybe the dominant thought was the best shark is a dead shark, people have largely shifted that notion,” said Fodrie.

For the past 50 years, the research team at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City takes a boat out every other week to study sharks just off the Crystal Coast.

They’ve captured over 11,000. They head out early in the morning and catch their bait. Then, they set two-mile-long lines, one near the shore and one farther out. Each line has 100 baited hooks.

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The lines soak for an hour before researchers reel them in and document what sharks they caught.

They also tag the sharks with a small piece of plastic. The plastic has the number of UNC IMS on it, so if another fisherman catches the shark, they can call the lab and track how far the shark swam.

UNC IMS shares this information with other research groups to help create better water management plans.

Fodrie says understanding these animals don’t exist in a vacuum and how they affect other ocean creatures is important.

Local researchers study sharks’ impacts on the Crystal Coast

“If you lose or gain sharks, that may result in a loss or gain of things that sharks eat,” said Fodrie. “That can create an imbalance on the food web.”

As far as the risk of a shark bite, Fodrie wants people to know it’s always there.

However, the number of shark attacks in North Carolina isn’t cause for concern.

“We have millions of people that visit the coast and spend millions of hours in the water … one and two and three, even five and six a year are incredibly low numbers,” said Fodrie.

The age-old advice about avoiding sharks still stands: stay out of the water after dark, don’t swim alone and if you see fish or dolphins in an area, there’s a good chance sharks could be nearby.

You can learn more about the long-term shark catch data collected by Fodrie and his team, here.

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