Two shark attacks in North Carolina that came within hours of each other and cost two young people their limbs were a stark reminder of the potential danger posed by these apex predators in America’s waters.
But as much as these often distressing incidents play on the minds of swimmers and surfers, the risk sharks pose to Americans taking to the water remains statistically low, according to Cindy Claus, director of Jenkinson’s Aquarium, in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.
The two attacks in North Carolina on Sunday — in which a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl lost their left arms and suffered other serious injuries — were "a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Claus told NBC News on Tuesday.
"I would still continue to go in the water. But there are a few things people can do to stay safe," she said, adding that these measures included not swimming at dusk, not wearing shiny jewelry and not exposing any open cuts.
Claus was also quick to point out the statistical rarity of shark attacks compared with other dangers.
"When you look at the end of the year how many people have been attacked by sharks, compared with people killed by bee stings and people who are hit by lightning, there is more chance of these things happening but we don’t tend to worry about them as much," she said.
There were 52 shark attacks recorded in the U.S. last year, none of which was fatal, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. Of these, 28 were in the Sunshine State, seven were in Hawaii, five were in South Carolina, four were in California, and four were in North Carolina.
In the same period, 26 people were killed by lightning strikes in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.
According to Claus, sharks are most commonly found from Florida, through the Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and Long Island. "When you get up to Massachusetts, the water is a lot colder and you’re not likely to get as many swimmers up there," Claus said.
There are around 50 to 60 different types of shark that can be found off the Carolinas coast alone, she added, but the most common types found in U.S waters were the tiger shark, white shark, bull shark and mako shark.
Great whites are not unheard of, but Claus said that the predators made famous in the "Jaws" movies, "are more elusive and perhaps not as common in the places where people are likely to be swimming."