Over the past three weeks, half a dozen people have been attacked by sharks off the coast of North Carolina. That has some Garden State residents wondering if the same kind of scenario could unfold at the Jersey Shore.

Could sharks attack at the Jersey Shore? (Ingram Publishing, ThinkStock)
Could sharks attack at the Jersey Shore? (Ingram Publishing, ThinkStock)

Unfortunately, some experts say the answer is yes.

"The same kind of thing can happen off the coast of New Jersey, especially near a fishing pier, you have bleeding, struggling fish and sharks learn -- they learn that they can get food in certain areas like fishing piers," said Marie Levine, executive director of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton.

She also said sharks can be drawn close to shore by surf fishermen.

"Sharks are fish eaters, they're not interested in attacking people, but when they see someone, something in the water that's unfamiliar, they don't have hands, so they might want to investigate it," she said. "It's really curiosity, but it could cause a problem."

Levine said sharks can't swim backwards and if they get into a channel and suddenly someone is right in front of them they can be frightened, and they may react defensively.

So what should you do if you're suddenly confronted by a shark in the ocean?

"Don't panic," Levine said. "But if it becomes aggressive or if it starts to bite you hit it in its snout, eyes, gills -- you know every animal has a personal space."

She said many swimmers and surfers aren't familiar with a shark's body language so they don't know what to do, or they simply may not see the shark in the water.

"The ocean is a different environment and it's not a swimming pool," she said. "But dogs bite more people than sharks do, and kill more people too."

She recommended people become educated and use common sense, the same way they would in any other unfamiliar environment.

"We're not on the menu of any sharks, actually they've been around for 400 million years, long before there were people," she said. "Sharks do learn, they do learn where they can find food."

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