North Carolina coast has seen a wave of shark bites recently and now officials are evaluating how best to prevent further shark attacks and keep beachgoers safe. Beach towns nationwide have been hesitant to close the beaches or to warn the swimmers. Even after the latest attack, which occurred in Surf City, North Carolina, town officials said they did not believe the risk warranted such actions.
The decision to close beaches or issue warnings often comes down to the behavior of the sharks. If the sharks are exhibiting any unusual behaviors such as congregating close to shore or being spotted in areas they typically aren’t seen, then closing a beach and issuing warnings might be a good idea, said Chris Brewster, chairman of the California-based United States Lifesaving Association.
Brewster further stated “It is all pretty logical stuff. Everyone needs to accept the reality that it is the ocean and sharks live in the ocean. Your chance of actually getting bitten by a shark is infinitesimal. It is reasonable to be prudent, but it is not reasonable to be so anxious that you stay out of the water.”
North Carolina has been urged to close the beach after the attack, for some time, or until the shark moves elsewhere.
The director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History agreed, George Burgess said “In the case where two very nasty bites occur in close proximity to each other, the prudent thing to do is to close the beach.”
Four people have been bitten by sharks off the North Carolina coast, in the last two weeks.
On June 11, a 13-year-old girl suffered small cuts on her foot from a shark bite at Ocean Isle Beach. Three days later, two separate shark attacks occurred within 90 minutes at Oak Island, N.C. Both victims, ages 12 and 16, had an arm amputated after the attacks. And Wednesday, an 8-year-old boy suffered minor injuries on his lower leg, heel and ankle when he was bitten by a shark.
Burgess said that the sharks were likely bull sharks pursuing nesting sea turtles.”A sea turtle is like a potato chip for a bull shark. They love them, and they follow them,” he said.
New Smyrna Beach is known as Florida’s shark bite capital. It is located on the East Coast in Volusia County, Florida.
Tammy Marris, spokeswoman for Volusia County Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue, said shark bites there are not a big deal.”Over 90 percent of our shark bites in Volusia County are so minor that we treat at the scene,” she said.
So far this year there have been four shark attacks in Volusia County but all of them were minor, none serious or life threatening.
“We don’t close the beach for shark bites, but we have 47 miles of beach, and it is fully guarded by lifeguards. If we happen to see a shark close to shore, we call people out of the water,” she said.
The county also has restrictions on shark fishing near the shoreline. Marris said fishermen must yield beach areas to people who are swimming or snorkeling. Because of this, there is less of a risk of sharks being lured close to shore by bait.
The best public safety option can be a sign alerting beachgoers about the possibility of sharks in water, said Brewster, who spent 13 years as San Diego’s chief lifeguard.
San Diego lifeguards have used helicopters and even drones to monitor any shark activity in the water. Brewster said both ideas work and help lifeguards know when big sharks are coming close to swimmers.
“Many people do not think of going into the ocean as a wilderness experience. They think going into the ocean is like jumping in the backyard pool,” Burgess said. “The ocean is the wilderness, and we are not guaranteed 100 percent safety when we enter. It is up to us to modify our behavior and avoid having a negative encounter.”
Marris Brewster urged beachgoers to take precautions by paying attention to lifeguards, using their common sense and understanding that when they enter the ocean they are in a strange environment.