Beach goers are proceeding with caution at beaches along the North and South Carolina coast as five reported shark attacks have occurred in shallow water in a two week span. In the first of the attacks, on June 11th, a 13-year-old girl suffered small cuts on her foot from a shark bite at Ocean Isle Beach.

Three days later a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy both lost an arm in attacks about 90 minutes apart at Oak Island, North Carolina on June 14th.

The next shark attack occurred just four days later on June 18th when a 13-year-old girl was injured along Ocean Isle Beach in what officials believe to be a shark attack. She was bitten on the foot, and the fish also took a chunk out of her Boogie Board.

Another attack occurred when an eight-year-old boy suffered minor injuries after being bitten by a shark on June 24th while swimming in knee-deep water in Surf City, North Carolina. The boy had superficial wounds on his lower leg, heel and ankle, and was treated by emergency personnel at the scene. His parents took him to an emergency room to have the wounds cleaned afterwards. The child had been swimming about five blocks from a fishing pier in shallow water.

North Carolina has averaged about three shark attacks per year in the past decade, up from a little more than one a year on average during the 1990s. From 2005 to 2014, there were a total of 25 shark attacks in North Carolina. This year’s incidents are part of a rising trend in the U.S. and much of the world over the past century. Overall, however, they remain relatively rare; an ocean swimmer has only a one in 11.5 million chance of being bitten by a shark, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

While authorities are asking waders to proceed with caution, many are wondering why so many attacks are occurring in shallow waters that are usually considered relatively safe. Many are wondering why there have been so many attacks in such a short period of time this year.

The incidents are heavily dependent on weather and currents and are much more likely when the water temperature reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit and when strong currents flow north along the coast, bringing bait fish. This year, those conditions appeared in April, and sharks soon followed, coming from Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. That coupled with the increased number of people in the water and the increased amount of time spent in the water by humans, the likelihood of an attack is increased.

Overfishing also contributes to increased shark attacks.   Overfishing has removed 90% of the fish from the sea since 1950. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of decline. This is not just bad news for humans who eat fish, but it is very bad news for sharks, orcas, whales, seals and dolphins that have no choice but to eat fish. In other words, starvation is a very big motivation for opportunistic attacks.  Regardless of the cause, beachgoers should be aware that unfortunately – any time in the water –even shallow water-puts yourself at risk for an attack.

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