Video by Cliff Hollis

Sharks put ECU graduate student in the spotlight

Aug. 28, 2015

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

If you were at a North Carolina beach this summer, you might have wondered if a shark was swimming just beneath the waves.

With eight shark bites reported along the state’s coast during a span of about four weeks in May and June, many people, including news reporters, were asking that same question. For shark expert and East Carolina University doctoral student Chuck Bangley, that meant more chances to talk about his work. 
ECU doctoral student Chuck Bangley is shown with a bull shark in the water. (Photo by Cecilia Krahforst)

“North Carolina’s not a very crowded market for shark people,” he said. “I definitely appreciate being able to be helpful.”

He guesses he did 15 media interviews during the summer, and he’s also appeared on two National Geographic “Wild” specials, “When Sharks Attack” and “United Sharks of America.”  Earlier this month, Bangley wrote a blog post for N.C. Sea Grant about his experiences with the media this summer following the shark bites. On Aug. 13, he spoke at a public gathering at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. A week earlier, he spoke at the N.C. Estuarium in Washington about his research of sharks in Back Sound near Beaufort.

“It seems overwhelming, but ultimately it’s one of our jobs as scientists to provide answers to people when they need them,” Bangley wrote in the blog.

Katie Mosher, communications director for N.C. Sea Grant, said Bangley is well-suited for that role. “Chuck has a natural ability to put research in terms the public can understand and he has an affinity – a need – to do that,” she said.

In his media interviews, Bangley has emphasized one main point: Warmer ocean temperatures brought sharks to North Carolina this year sooner than expected.

From 2003-2014, coastal water temperatures rose 4 degrees Celsius in May and 1-2 degrees in June. 

ECU doctoral student Chuck Bangley, a Ph.D. candidate in coastal resource management, conducts research to identify the presence of sharks in eastern North Carolina waters. Assisting are ECU graduate student Ryan Mackenzie, wearing black and white, UNC geology major Carson Miller, in a white T-shirt, Hunter Lumsden, in a white cap, and Rebecca Lumsden, wearing pink. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
“It seems like we get these summer temperatures earlier, then they’re here,” Bangley said. “We’re getting hotter faster.”

What that means is sharks that would normally come into the area in mid-summer are arriving in late spring – at a time when swimmers are just beginning to hit the water. Then as spring turns into summer, the sharks continue up the coast to New England.

“It’s really a bright, clear connection to temperature,” he said. And with 25 confirmed shark bites between 2005 and 2014, North Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for bites, according to National Geographic.

The warmer waters also appear to have created a new nursery for baby bull sharks: the Pamlico Sound. Looking at data from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Bangley has identified bulls along the west side of the sound and even into the rivers that feed it. He’s found as many as 36 juvenile bull sharks in or near the sound.

“What it’s showing is this species has the ability to find new nursery habitat if it has to,” he said.

There is a benefit to having the sharks around. They keep patches of young aquatic plants free of fish that would feed on the juvenile fish that live among the plants.

But when a hot spring brings people to the beach at the same time the bulls are arriving, conflict is bound to occur.

“They’re the apex predator shark that’s most likely to overlap with people in the water,” Bangley said. “They’re big and powerful enough that an accidental bite can remove an arm.”

Bangley contributes to the science blog Southern Fried Science at  Follow him on Twitter at @spinydag. He blogs about “spiny dogfish, grad school and life” at