Warming waters may be changing shark migration patterns

Sharks may be moving north

Wrightsville Beach, N.C. — An 8-year-old boy in North Carolina is recovering from a shark bite. He's one of three people who were attacked this month in the state, and warming waters could be partly to blame for the outbreak.

Off remote South Bald Head Island, the boy's injuries were not horrific. But two weeks ago, a shark attack cost 17-year-old Paige Winter her left leg. Her father, Charlie Winter, rescued her.

"It was a big shark. It kind of thrashed a little bit and it had a big, just a big eye just staring at you," he said.

Shark attacks are still rare. Worldwide last year, there were 66 unprovoked shark attacks and four fatalities. North Carolina averages three shark attacks a year, so three attacks in two weeks sounds like a lot.

"I cannot say that climate change has anything to do with why these sharks are off our beaches right now," said Hap Fatzinger, who directs the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. "This is shark habitat and this is where they're supposed to be."

There are more sharks off the Carolina coasts. Some studies say warming waters are changing their migration pattern. Fatzinger said off North Carolina's coast at any given time, there are roughly 50 species of sharks. Some swim in waters as shallow as waist-deep.

"Hundreds of thousands of people every single day on the beaches of North Carolina. These incidents are extremely rare and it's unfortunate that it sheds such a negative light on a species that is in such trouble," Fatzinger said.

Fatzinger said if you're in the water and see a dolphin, head to shore. Sharks could be feeding on the same school of fish. But a bigger threat than sharks are rip currents. Seven people have already drowned off the state's coast already this year.

North Carolina teen barely survives unprovoked shark attack, but stays positive
  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.