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Why so many NC shark attacks? Expert sees ‘perfect storm’ of factors

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HIGH POINT, N.C. – The 4th of July holiday is going to bring a flood of visitors to the North Carolina coast at a time when shark experts say conditions are ripe for sharks.

Just this past weekend, two people were bitten by sharks near Cape Hatteras.

On Friday, a 47-year-old man was bitten by a shark in the leg and back while trying to get children and another adult out of the water near Avon.

On Saturday, an 18-year-old was swimming with other people near Waves when the shark bit his calf, buttocks and both hands.

Both victims were rushed from the beach and underwent surgery.

The teen was listed in critical condition, but has been upgraded to serious condition. The man is said to be in stable condition.

The attacks mark the sixth incident on North Carolina beaches in June. Last year, there were only four reported in the state through the summer.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, said there are several environmental factors that make North Carolina appear to be a “perfect storm” for shark activity this summer.

The warmer than normal temperatures this month helped raise the water temperature. A lack of substantial rain in North Carolina has meant that the ocean water is not being diluted with fresh river water. Sharks like both warm water and high salinity.

There’s also plenty of food drawing sharks closer to the beaches. Burgess said there are an abundance of bait fish and sea turtles along the coast this year, giving sharks a reason to be close to visitors.

“Lots of people, lots of sharks, lots of food in the water -- that's a formula for shark attacks,” said Burgess.

The number of visitors to the beach in North Carolina has risen steadily over the past few years.

State tourism numbers show an average of 6.5 million visitors with an 18 percent increase since 2010.

Burgess said with more visitors comes an increased risk of the shark attacks.

“Obviously, sharks are denizens of the sea and we are visitors,” said Burgess. “It's their home and we need to make some adjustments now while the sharks are most common and be more careful.”

Burgess said it would be wise for there to be more lifeguards and wildlife officers watching for sharks right now because of the abundance of sharks in the water.

“I think North Carolina waters have reached that level where we should see lifeguards on every major beach,” said Burgess.

Burgess recommends the extra caution until conditions inviting such heavy shark activity change.

That could happen with heavy storms that would desalinate the ocean water around North Carolina or might not change until the weather cools again with a change in season.

But because of the holiday season, Burgess said caution around the water is recommended more than ever.

“We anticipate there's going to be a bite or two in the United States over the holiday weekend just because we're putting so many people in the water,” said Burgess. “Let's hope it doesn't occur in North Carolina.”