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Shark attacks - especially fatal ones - exceedingly rare, data show

Sharks swim in a tank at the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. (Nate Belt/NewsChannel 12)

ATLANTIC BEACH, Carteret County - While it's possible you could see a shark off the coast of North Carolina this summer, your best bet is to check out an area aquarium.

And for Shark Week, that's just what we did, learning more about these beasts of the deep.

The Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is home to four species of sharks - all of which you could find off North Carolina's coast. Those making the drive down to the aquarium can get a closer look at sandbar, nurse, bonnethead and sand tiger sharks.

Jeff Harms, an educator at PKS Aquarium, said the Hollywood-infused idea of sharks as bloodthirsty killers just isn't accurate.

"They're just not out to get people," he said. "They're really important to have out there. They take out the weaker injured fish and keep populations healthy. We need them. If we didn't have sharks in the oceans the oceans would not be healthy."

They also provide a boost to the local economy.

"We're one of the few places in the world where we have a pretty consistent group of sand tiger sharks and divers come here from all over the world to swim with them," Harms said.

To put into comparison the level of danger humans face from sharks, Harms said more people are killed each year from falling coconuts than from shark attacks (there's about one death per year from shark attacks worldwide).

There has not been a fatal shark attack off the coast of North Carolina since 2001, though there are usually a handful of non-fatal attacks each year, according to SharkAttackData.com. The highest number of shark attacks of any kind recorded off North Carolina's coast was 8 in 2015 - all of which took place over a four-week span from mid-June to early-July.

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