Last week I caught the tail end (pun intended) of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, the latest in a made-for-TV franchise chock full of product placements, B-list celebrities (think David Hasselhoff), and scientific inaccuracies. But under the ridiculous and satirical, a smidgen of harsh truth emerged. Sharks are showing up in places we once deemed safe, due to what some experts are calling the “perfect storm” of independent factors.
This summer alone, seven shark attacks have occurred off the coast of North Carolina. And not in deep waters, either. The startling similarity across these incidents is that they’ve all taken place in shallow areas at popular beaches.
According to data from the International Shark Attack File (yes, this really does exist), housed in the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History, shark attacks in North Carolina over the past decade have grown considerably. Between 2005 and 2009, there were nine confirmed attacks, and since then, there have been 16.
National Geographic recently examined what could be causing this spike in shark attacks, and three of the five conditions they identified have a direct link to weather variances:
Higher water temperatures in the mid-Atlantic are drawing sharks north.
Due to an extended drought in the region, rainfall in North Carolina and South Carolina has decreased, leading to a greater concentration of salt in the ocean. Fun fact: sharks love salt.
Global warming could mean that this is only the beginning.
Sharks aren’t the only aquatic creatures affected by climate change. On the lower end of the food chain, a hairy-chested crab lovingly nicknamed the “Hoff” after David Hasselhoff himself, is struggling to survive amid warming seas. As it turns out, the Hoff doesn’t mind swimming in hot water (it lives on hydrothermal vents, after all), but higher temps at the ocean’s surface are messing with its oxygen levels and breaking the delicate equilibrium it depends on.
Were the creators of Sharknado subtly warning us about the very real dangers of climate change by including an actor whose namesake is shared by a fragile crab on the verge of extinction? Was this cult film, with its artistic liberties and blatant disregard for laws of nature actually a complex social commentary on extreme weather and its consequences?
While Sharknado 3 left me with more questions than answers (“How can they survive in space?” “How can they survive in a tornado?” ask the two main characters and every person watching the premiere), in its wake we should consider and take seriously the impact climate change will have on our entire ecosystem.
ISAF Statistics for the World Locations with the Highest Shark Attack Activity (2005-2014), International Shark Attack File
North Carolina’s “Perfect Storm” for Shark Attacks, National Geographic