Located off the North Carolina coast, Topsail Island is a 26-mile barrier island. The three communities on the island -- North Topsail Beach, Surf City and Topsail Beach -- revolve primarily around the summer tourist industry as vacationers flock to the secluded beaches. Numerous species of sharks live in the waters around Topsail Island, coming and going with the different seasons. But the closest encounter you'll have the living fossils is finding shark teeth on the beach.
The sand shark, also called a gray nurse or sand tiger shark, is one of the most common shark species around Topsail Island. The menacing looking sharks, with rows of ragged teeth protruding from a gaping mouth, are docile, only attacking in self-defense. If you encounter a shark on Topsail Island you'll most likely see a sand shark as they inhabit shorelines. Adult sand sharks range in size from 6 to 10 1/2 feet (1.8 to 3.2m).
Mostly found in coastal waters, bull sharks have been suspected in many U.S. shark attacks, including one off Topsail Island in 2010 -- a 13-year-old girl was bitten twice on the foot. "Many experts consider bull sharks to be the most dangerous sharks in the world," according to National Geographic. Bull Sharks can tolerate fresh and brackish water, making them an unlikely menace in tropical and sub-tropical rivers. The sharks name comes from their short, blunt nose, and tendency to head butt its prey before biting. Bull sharks are uniformly gray, growing to a maximum length of 12 feet.
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
The scalloped hammerhead, the most common hammerhead species, prefers the deeper waters off Topsail Island. Hammerheads are the most identifiable shark species from a wide, flat front portion of its head. This adaptation gives the hammerhead an advantage when hunting fish, squid and octopi. Scalloped hammerheads will only attack if provoked. Adult hammerheads range in size from 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6m).
Named after the land animal because of distinctive tiger-like stripes found on juveniles, tiger sharks are found in sub-tropical and tropical waters around the world. Topsail Island lingers on the northern edge of a sub-tropical zone. Tiger sharks have been nicknamed the "wastebasket of the sea" because they are scavengers, their palate is unable to differentiate between a fresh fish and a bag of garbage. Tiger sharks are second only to great whites in reported attacks on humans. They can live to be 50 years old, growing to lengths of 14 feet (4.3m).
Other Shark Species
Other shark species found around Topsail Island are thresher, smooth dogfish, black tip and oceanic white tip. These species pose little or no threat to swimmers off the island's beaches. The black tip is the most common, often the target of local fisherman.