Only three shark attacks were reported in the state in all of 2018, according to the International Shark Attack File. But experts say there is often year-to-year variation.
An 8-year-old boy was bitten by a shark this weekend in North Carolina, the third reported attack in the state this month.
The child was swimming near South Beach on Bald Head Island on Sunday when the shark attacked, leaving him with nonlife-threatening puncture wounds to the leg, said Chris McCall, the village manager of the island. The victim was not publicly identified because of his age.
A week ago, Austin Reed, 19, was bitten by a shark while surfing at Ocean Isle Beach. And early this month, Paige Winter, 17, was attacked while swimming near Atlantic Beach in Fort Macon State Park. All three attacks were unprovoked and nonfatal.
Only three shark attacks were reported in North Carolina in all of 2018, according to the International Shark Attack File, a scientific database of shark attacks housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“We see variation from one year to the next,” said Gavin Naylor, the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, which oversees the database. “Do we need to worry? I think it’s too soon to make such an assessment.”
North Carolina has the fifth-highest historical number of unprovoked shark attacks after Florida, Hawaii, California and South Carolina, according to the database. Researchers at the International Shark Attack File have been tracking incidents as far back as 1837.
Most attacks on the East Coast are by blacktip sharks, Dr. Naylor said. These sharks, which are a little under five feet long and weigh about 40 pounds on average, migrate north from southern Florida in the spring and settle by North Carolina for the summer. If they bite someone, it is usually because they had mistaken human feet for fish, Dr. Naylor said.
Based on their injuries, this is probably what happened with the 8-year-old boy and Mr. Reed, who was surfing at the time of the attack, Dr. Naylor said. Paige Winter’s bite was more violent, however, and most likely caused by an aggressive bull shark, according to Dr. Naylor.
Paige was dragged underwater by a shark, her father, a paramedic, told journalists at a news conference weeks after the incident. He said he grabbed her and punched the shark until it let go. The girl’s left leg was amputated and she lost two fingers on her left hand.
“This sort of incident is extremely rare,” said Katie Hall, a spokeswoman for the state's Parks and Recreation System. “There have been sharks seen on the coast of North Carolina, but nobody on our staff could remember a shark attack happening in the state parks — and there are people who have been working for the parks for decades.”
Coastal tourism is a $3 billion industry in North Carolina, according to the governor’s office.
Fort Macon State Park, one of North Carolina’s busiest state parks, has had 60,000 visitors this year. On the day that Ms. Winter was attacked, Ms. Hall said, there were probably 6,000 to 7,000 people on the beach.
“We haven’t seen a decline in visitors since the incident, and I think that’s because most people know that it’s extremely rare and you’re much more likely to get in an accident on the way to the beach than you are to have an injury due to an animal in the water,” Ms. Hall said.
The United States leads the world in reported shark bites, according to the International Shark Attack File. Last year, researchers confirmed 32 shark attacks, one of them fatal. Twenty-four such incidents have been recorded so far this year.
“We encourage people to be thoughtful and cautious, have a plan and swim with a buddy,” Ms. Hall said.