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Sharks: a natural part of the marine ecosystem

Charles Bangley. Photo by C. Leinbach

Charles Bangley. Photo by C. Leinbach

 

By Connie Leinbach

While there are plenty of sharks in the waters off the coast of Ocracoke and in the Pamlico Sound, they aren’t out to feast on humans.

In fact, the presence of sharks in any waters signals a healthy ecosystem, said Charles Bangley, a Ph.D. candidate in coastal studies at ECU, during a talk he gave Monday (March 9) in the Ocracoke Community Center.

His talk was part of the “Know Your Park” series hosted by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the winter months to further acquaint visitors and residents with the culture, history and biology of the Outer Banks.IMG_0137edit

Bangley discussed his field work in tagging various sharks off Cape Hatteras in recent years to gain knowledge about the mating and living habits of these “underdog fish.”

He is interested in how sharks use habitat in North Carolina waters, the interactions between sharks and other species and the role of these predators in the marine ecosystem.

“Sharks like North Carolina,” he said as he showed one of the many slides of his work. That’s because of the convergence of the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador Current at Cape Hatteras. “With varying temperatures like these, you can get any kind of fish.”

That’s also why sport fishing here is so prized—because fishermen can land many kinds of fish here, he said.

Sharks like the area from Cape Hatteras to Cape Lookout.  We’re talking sandbar, bull, various kinds of dogfish and more.

As part of his research, he caught and tagged more than 2,200 sharks. Transponders placed on the ocean floor then picked up the pings from these fish where each had their own, unique identifier.

That enabled Bangley to map the travels of most all the fish he tagged.IMG_0201edit

One of his slides showed data from 2007 to 2013 in the Pamlico Sound, the second largest estuary in the nation. This slide showed that an abundance of sharks like to hang around near the mainland, particularly near Engelhard and northward.

How did he grab live sharks and tag them?

IMG_0195edit“When you roll sharks on their backs they pass out,” he said.

One of his assistants would constantly pour water through the fish’s gills while Bangley made an incision in the shark’s belly where he placed a transmitter. Then he sutured the incision, and the shark was on its way.

Even though sharks have lots of bad press, shark attacks on humans are rare, he stressed.

“You’re more likely to get bit by another human in the New York subway than you are by a shark,” he said.

While several students in Patricia Piland’s middle-school science class asked about the recent appearance of “Katherine,” a great white shark whose tracked route along the Atlantic shows she has ventured into Pamlico Sound, Bangley’s efforts were not focused on these huge predators.