Back-to-back shark attacks in a North Carolina beach town tempered tourists’ enthusiasm for the water Monday, but local officials kept the beaches open despite concern from one of the nation’s leading shark attack experts.
While it is unclear whether the same shark took the left hand of a 12-year-old girl and attacked another teen about an hour later and couple miles away late Sunday afternoon, the close proximity was worrisome to George H. Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.
“The fact you had a couple bites in close succession always worries scientists and suggests there might be a single individual involved,” Mr. Burgess said, noting that he’s only seen two other circumstances in which he believed a single shark was involved in multiple attacks on the same day.
With most beaches in North Carolina lacking lifeguards, and without authorities keeping watch, Mr. Burgess recommended temporarily closing the beach.
Oak Island’s beaches were open Monday, and officials said they can’t stop people from swimming. However crowds staking out a sliver of sand were noticeably thinner Monday than the previous day.
“I would describe the beach as empty as compared to when we were here yesterday,” said Lori Little, of Claremont, North Carolina, who was vacationing with her husband. “I don’t think people are quite ready to get in the water yet.”
On Sunday, chaos erupted as the attacks disrupted one of the first busy weekends since public schools ended for summer. The victims — a girl from Asheboro and a boy from Colorado Springs, Colorado — were bleeding heavily, and other beachgoers applied makeshift tourniquets.
It was “quite nightmarish,” vacationer Steve Bouser said. “I saw someone carry this girl (out of the water), and people were swarming around and trying to help … It was quite terrible.”
Surgeons amputated the girl’s left arm below her elbow, and she has tissue damage to her lower left leg. The boy’s left arm was amputated below his left shoulder. Both were in good condition Monday at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. Neither name was released.
Both were in waist-deep water about 20 yards offshore of an Oak Island beach.
North Carolina ranks fourth in the United States in the number of attacks reported. Mr. Burgess counts 52 shark attacks on humans in North Carolina waters from 1935 to 2014. There were 72 shark attacks on humans around the world in 2014.
Tim Holloman, Oak Island’s town administrator, said as a precaution a city-run surf camp scheduled for this week had been cancelled and that officials have discussed instituting a short-term ban on fishing for sharks from either the pier or beaches. But aside from that, he doesn’t expect any kind of economic downturn to befall the town on account of the attacks.
“I was down at the beach today and I didn’t see a lot of people in the water, so I think some people were being cautious,” Mr. Holloman said. “I think it will get back to normal, short of having another event.”
Those who do return to the water should avoid swimming where people are fishing, stay out of the water if they have bleeding cuts, and avoid swimming in turbulent water or after a storm, Mr. Holloman said.
Being mindful of sharks and dangerous conditions are among the first lessons surfing instructor Rick Civelli went over Monday as he escorted a group of children into the water at Wrightsville Beach, located about 40 miles north of Oak Island.
“We don’t skirt the issue, that was the first thing we talked about,” the WB Surf Camp owner said.
While his shop fielded numerous calls from people concerned about getting back into the ocean after the shark attacks, Mr. Civelli said that out of three groups of 14 children he only had one cancellation.
“I think in a week it’s not going to be that big of a deal,” he said. “When it’s 90-something degrees in the South, you’re going to the beach.”
This story is based in part on wire service reports.