(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)- Crashing waves can carry a bite, a hidden bite, and we’re not talking sharks. We’ll get to those water predators in a moment.
Loud and powerful, waves often seem like the most menacing part of our oceans. It’s the calm that’s more deadly than any other beach hazard said Molly Bost, a PhD candidate in coastal geology at UNC.
“If you see an area of calm water, don’t just take it for calm water,” Bost said.
As the sandbar breaks, ocean water rushes away from the beach, creating this channel of rapidly flowing water out to sea that can span as wide as a football field. That’s why if you’re stuck in a rip current, it’s much safer for you to swim parallel to the shore.
Even before the unofficial start to summer, one person has already died this year in a rip current in North Carolina.
“So if you come to the beach, you want to try to get a high vantage point,” Bost said.
She says there are misconceptions about rip currents.
“People think that you get sucked down into the water, but really the fastest moving water in a rip current is on the surface.’
It’s not an undertow.
“It typically will transport anything buoyant like sea weed or a beach toy or a swimmer out to sea.”
That current pushing out to sea can be fast.
“They move five miles per hour, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer can swim,” Bost said. So, if you can’t swim out of it, treat it like a lazy river until you reach the safer, breaking waves.
Experts are now able to model waves, wind, and tide to forecast rip currents up to six days in advance.
“Blue sky days can just as easily have rip currents,” warns Bost.
So pay attention to those warning flags, be on-guard all the time, double red is a no-go.
So you’ve dodged the waves…But do you then need to dodge the fins?
Because both warm water currents and cold water currents cut across the Carolinas, we have over 50 species of sharks in our water. That means you’re never more than a couple hundred yards away from a pair of jaws!
“I find that very comforting,” said Dr. Joel Fodrie, fisheries ecologist at UNC. “It just reinforces that those sharks almost never, ever, ever want anything to do with people.”
Millions of people visit our beaches each year.
“It’s more rare than a lightning strike, it’s more rare than winning the lottery,” he explains, yet numbers for shark bites are incredibly low, “There’s more than nine lottery winners in North Carolina every year, so quite literally your chances are better of winning the lottery than having one of these bad encounters with a shark.”
Sharks swam with the dinosaurs, they’ve been around for 400 million years, Dr. Fodrie says.
“They’re highly evolved, they have really good senses of smell, some of them have really good senses of sight, they can detect electromagnetic fields, they can hear well.”
So whether they’re looking for food or a mate, “they’re really only looking for one thing and they’re really good at finding it,” said Fodrie.
He says that while they look big and scary to us, they’re not as much of a danger as we think.
“Sharks are really skittish animals. If you’ve ever been around one, it’s really easy to make them jump.”
So when there is a shark bite, it’s usually because of extenuating circumstances.
“Maybe it’s because the water is cloudy or turbid or it’s noisy.”
“They’re simply spooked, just trying to figure out what’s what. 99.999 carry the decimal times, that shark wants to just get away from people as fast as possible,” Dr. Fodrie says.
So, keep the shark in your rear-view, and the waves in front of you, as you head back to the beach.