By Peter Galuszka
The Pamlico Sound in North Carolina has long been a bellwether of environmental changes. Different temperatures and salinity levels can affect everything from marsh grass to shrimp catches to fish kills.
Now scientists are finding that more potentially deadly sharks are in this shallow, broad estuary that separates the mainland from the Outer Banks. The reason: rising water temperatures.
More bull sharks are being found in the Pamlico Sound, according to Charles Bangley, a doctoral candidate at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
He found 36 juvenile bull sharks in the sound since 2012. Another study found 113 bull sharks from 1965 to 2011. “It’s possible the Pamlico Sound represents a new nursing area for bull sharks,” he told The Virginian-Pilot.
Why so? Warmer water means that female bull sharks are swimming into the sound through narrow ocean inlets to take advantage of more plentiful food. They tend to have their young in the sound.
That’s not all. Two great white sharks, potential man eaters, have been seen in the Outer Banks area. One 14-feet-long female was pinged by satellite on the far west side of the Pamlico Sound in January.
Shark fatalities are rare events on the tourist-heavy Outer Banks. The last fatality was in Corolla in 2009. About eight years before that, a man was killed in the surf near Avon.
I’ve seen plenty of sharks diving 20 miles off Cape Hatteras which is a good place to find them since the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream meet there, bringing in different species.
And, many years ago, when I was working one college summer as a newspaper reporter in Beaufort County, a gill net fisherman came up with a 10-foot dusky shark in the brackish waters of the Pamlico River where sharks are almost never found. Unusually warm and dry weather that summer meant that less fresh water was flowing into the sound from the Pamlico River and the shark had been swimming into the saltier areas.
The weird thing about bull sharks is that their birthing areas are usually in Florida, scientists believe.
Is this more evidence of (dare I say it) climate change? Could be. A few years ago there was news revealing that breeding populations of alligators had moved farther north. They had been in East Lake, N.C. near Nags Head but now were up near the Virginia border.
I’ll let you know when they reach the Potomac.There are currently no comments highlighted.