Unpack the stigma

Published 5:37 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

Sharks. They are one of the ocean’s largest predators, and they play a vital role in the health of the world’s oceans.

However, this important animal almost immediately comes with a stigma to many beachgoers. The image of sharks is normally paired with razor sharp teeth, a chomp in a surfboard and/or a trail of blood in the water.

While shark attacks are relatively rare, the presence of these animals in the area should be noted. Sharks have been found lurking around popular North Carolina beaches that many Beaufort County residents frequent. This year, great whites and other species have been “pinged,” or been tracked, by ocean conservancy organization OCEARCH all over the coast of North Carolina. Scientists have found sharks swimming around nearby Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle and off the coasts of the Outer Banks and Wilmington.

Scientists say that they’ve even seen sharks come as far inland as the Pamlico Sound before. Bull sharks, thanks to their ability to lurk in fresher waters, have been spotted closer to home in the Pamlico River. They are normally juveniles in transit or looking for food, but they still could pose a threat.

Sharks are dangerous; there is no doubt about that. Most of them are large and full of force and speed.

While sharks can be terrifying, debunking the stereotype that sharks are cruel, useless killers is important. A world without sharks spells disaster for ecosystems. Sharks keep the food chain balanced and indicate the health of oceans and other waterways.

They do not usually prey on humans, but they are wild creatures. Beachgoers should always take the necessary precautions to avoid the possibility of a shark attack.

According to OCEARCH, some of these precautions include: avoid swimming at night or early morning; avoid swimming with open cuts or wounds; avoid brightly colored swimwear or surfboards and shiny jewelry; and avoid swimming alone.

As Beaufort County residents continue to vacation to the coast for the remainder of the summer, or boat in the rivers and sounds, it’s important to be mindful of these animals. Always use caution when entering the water.