Warmer Waters Leads To More Bull Sharks

Apr 23, 2018

Catch per unit effort (CPUE, sharks/set) of Young-of-Year (YOY), Age 1 , and Combined Juvenile size classes during May-September in 2003–2016 NCDMF fishery-independent gillnet surveys within Pamlico Sound by year. Error bars represent standard error.
Credit Charles Bangley / Nature

Researchers say rising sea temperatures have brought more bull sharks to North Carolina. 

A study published on Nature.com says the sharks appear to be moving their reproductive habitats farther north as the Atlantic gets warmer.

"There have been adult bull sharks spotted in the sound for decades, so they're not really new, but it's these juveniles and the potential evidence that they're reproducing that's new," said Charles Bangley of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. "It seems like the changing environmental conditions brought Pamlico Sound into the comfortable range for it to be a bull shark nursing habitat."

Bangley has studied the state's survey of fish populations and found more young sharks started showing up in Pamlico Sound in 2011. The sharks routinely reproduce in warm waters off the Gulf Coast and east side of Florida, and have moved north with the warmer waters.

There have been a reported 53 bull sharks spotted off North Carolina's shores between 2011 and 2016.  There were only six in the eight years before that.

"They were extremely rare in survey catches until about 2011, 2012, and then starting then there was a big spike and they've been a consistent – and actually slightly increasing – presence ever since," said Bangley.