October 16, 2014

Video of shark feeding frenzy at Cape
Lookout gets national attention 


A YouTube video of a shark feeding frenzy at Cape Lookout National Seashore, just south of Cape Hatteras, has gone viral on national and social media this week.

The video was shot by angler Donnie Griggs, while he was on retreat with some other leaders of One Harbor Church, which is located in nearby Morehead City, N.C. 

The men wrote in the text with the video that they were out fishing for the evening's dinner when they came across more than 100 sharks attacking a school of bluefish. They watched the frenzy for more than five minutes, they said, and caught blues on every cast on line with no bait.

The scene is quite fascinating as the blues chase bait fish in the water and the sharks chase the bluefish, while screeching gulls circle and dive from overhead and brown pelicans sit on the water nearby, waiting their chance.

The incident was filmed last Thursday, Oct. 9, and has been shared on local television stations all the way to Indiana, a USA Today blog, ABC Nightly News, and a whole myriad of other blogs and social media sites.

Last night after the video made the ABC national newscast earlier in the evening, it had already been viewed more than 600,000 times. But before midnight, that number was well over a million views.

Griggs is described "as an avid waterman who spearfishes, dives, swims and surfs at Cape Lookout often."

The description of the video closes with, " We want it to be clear that Cape Lookout and the surrounding beaches of Eastern North Carolina are extremely safe for swimming. The presence of these sharks and large schools of fish is actually a sign of a very healthy ecosystem."

That is all very true, according to a recent story by Tess Malijenosky for Coastal Review Online on the "state of the sharks." The beaches are safe for swimming and the sharks are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

The writer spent a day aboard a vessel with a captain and his crew who make a biweekly pilgrimage to the waters off Shackleford Banks in Carteret County to catch sharks for Frank Schwartz, a researcher at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. He has been surveying sharks off the coast since 1972 and has the longest continuous dataset in the U.S. that uses the same gear in the same locations.

"Schwartz says there are certain species that he isn’t seeing anymore, particularly the large sharks," Malijenosky writes. "He thinks the  decline is cyclical and isn’t worried that any one species will go extinct."

However, she notes that other scientists think sharks are indeed in serious trouble. While some species "are very slowly beginning to recover, their threat of extinction is still real."

Some local commercial fishermen who spend time on the water say that shark numbers may have been down at some point, but from what they see on their trips, that is no longer the case. The sharks, they say, are everywhere.

The article goes on to talk about sharks and their interactions with humans.

It remains true that the danger of being killed -- or even attacked by a shark -- is mighty slim.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 48 confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks off the North Carolina coast from 1935-2013. That number includes just three fatalities -- in 1935, 1957, and 2001.

The 2001 fatal attack was off the beach in Avon when a 28-year-old Russian visitor died and his girlfriend was injured.

There are a few other reports of shark bites at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in recent years, but both victims -- a woman in Avon in 2012 and a 5-year-old girl on Ocracoke in 2011 -- recovered just fine.

This summer, there have been frequent media reports of sharks -- especially Great Whites -- congregating off beaches on both coasts and along the East Coast from Cape Cod to Florida.

Of course, as George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File, notes in the Coastal Review Online article, there are more people than ever in the water, enjoying beach vacations and all kinds of watersports. And those people have cameras on cell phones and access to social media to get the word out.

Burgess says that we can expect more shark attacks along the North Carolina coast in the future, but that an individual's chance of being bitten will decrease.

“With the increase in water temperatures, one will expect there to be increases in the number of sharks along the East Coast of the United States, including North Carolina,” he says in the article.

“You’re going to have more sharks in more areas encountering humans,” he says. “As a result the answer is, of course, there will be more of these incidences because a) you’re going to have a lot more people in the water and b) you’re going to have more sharks in areas where they were not normally found. We’ve already seen that in certain areas.”

However, Burgess adds, “Our chances of being bit as individuals actually decreases each year because of the sheer volume of people in the water."

And click here to read the full story on the "State of the Sharks.

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