Sharks are more likely to bite you after heavy rain. Here’s why.

Sharks are more likely to bite you after heavy rain. Here’s why.
Heavy rains can turn ocean waters murky, which attracts sharks closer to shore, experts say. (Charlotte Observer)

NORTH CAROLINA (Mark Price/Charlotte Observer) - The girl bitten by a shark Sunday off Emerald Isle might have been targeted because of North Carolina's record-setting rain, experts say.

Brian Dorn, associate director of the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, tells WECT that rain runoff may have confused the shark by turning the shallow waters murky where the girl was swimming.

The shark likely couldn't tell what it was biting, he told the Wilmington Star-News

"Unfortunately, sharks don't have hands to reach out and kind of test their food," Dorn told the newspaper. "The way they kind of feel their environment is through their teeth, and we know that can be very destructive."

He suspects the girl was mistaken for a bait fish by a young sandbar shark, in the 3- to 4-foot range, WECT reported.

Cloudy waters have plagued some popular state beaches for weeks, including a period in late July when the flooding prompted state officials to issue a swimming advisory in Dare and Currituck counties.

Coastal North Carolina set a monthly rain record in July, with Cape Hatteras reporting more than 20 inches, according to the Washington Post.

North Carolina is not the only coastal state where cloudy water has been linked to shark bites. Warm, murky waters have been blamed for an uptick in attacks in South Carolina, The (Columbia) State newspaper reported last month.

And in July, murky water was blamed for a nurse shark biting a 30-year-old surfer in Fernandina Beach, Florida, as reported by the Independent.

Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources says heavy rains can actually attract sharks closer to shore, KHNL reported. That's because rain runoff pushes "dead animals and stream fish" out to sea, creating a feast for sharks, the news outlet reported.

The shark bite reported Sunday off Emerald Isle involved a girl bitten on her calf. She was heard screaming and was brought to shore by her father, said a Brunswick County Sheriff's Office report.

The girl was hospitalized with a non-life-threatening injury, according to the report.

Officials with the Bald Head Island Department of Public Safety believe she was bitten by "a juvenile shark."