Yet another shark attack occurred Wednesday afternoon in North Carolina's Outer Banks — the state's seventh this year — as beachgoers in the eastern U.S. confront a surprising surge of bites.
Just one or two shark attacks typically occur in North Carolina each year. Nationwide, the number is usually 30 to 40, according to data from the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.
Wednesday's attack on Ocracoke Island was the 24th this year in the U.S. The victim, a 68-year-old man, was pulled underwater by a 6- to 7-foot-long gray shark but was able to swim to shore despite bites on his rib cage, hip, lower leg and hands, according to a release from Hyde County, which is part of the Outer Banks.
He was swimming about 25 to 30 feet offshore in waist-deep water with his adult son when the attack occurred, WCNC-TV reported. It was the third attack along the Carolina coast in the past week.
The uptick in attacks — slightly above average for the year — is raising concerns about the Fourth of July holiday weekend. "I can almost guarantee there'll be a bite or two this weekend," said George Burgess, the director of the Shark Attack File.
Hyde County said it will have two ambulances with paramedic level service available with a third on call for the Fourth of July weekend.
Many of the attacks this year have occurred farther north than usual, Burgess said. South Carolina has also seen its share of attacks — three so far, he added.
In Florida, where shark attacks are more common, the 11 cases so far this year have received little attention. However, publicity about the attacks might cause swimmers to think twice this weekend.
"I bet fewer and fewer people are swimming these days, so opportunities for interactions may be diminished for a while," said Daniel Abel, a marine scientist at Coastal Carolina University.
Only one of the 24 attacks — in Hawaii — has been fatal. On average, zero to one of the shark attacks reported each year is fatal, according to the Shark Attack File.
The proximity of fisherman and swimmers was of particular concern in last weekend's attacks, Burgess told LiveScience. "Fishing off a beach where there are swimmers and surfers makes for a really bad mix," he said.
Drought conditions in the Carolinas have led to decreased fresh water runoff and thus to saltier sea water, which sharks prefer, Burgess added. According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, about 65% of North Carolina and 52% of South Carolina were either abnormally dry or in drought conditions.
Baby sea turtles and menhaden fish have been more plentiful than usual, providing more attraction for the sharks, Burgess said.
The "ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the opportunities for interaction between the two affected parties" could be one reason for the slight uptick in attacks, the Shark Attack File reported.
In addition, 24/7 news and social media coverage tends to exaggerate the danger. Bees, wasps and snakes are each responsible for far more deaths annually in the U.S. than sharks, the Shark Attack File said.
"The chances of dying ... are markedly higher from many other causes (such as drowning and cardiac arrest) than from shark attack," according to the Shark Attack File.