Shark experts weigh in on avoiding shark bites

Shark experts around the Lowcountry say anytime you are in the ocean, sharks are in there with you.
Shark experts around the Lowcountry say anytime you are in the ocean, sharks are in there with you.

CHARLESTON, SC – Two teenagers are in the hospital after separate shark attacks in Oak Island, North Carolina. With Oak Island only about three hours away from Charleston, News 2 wanted to find out if there’s any reason to be concerned shark attacks like these could happen on our beaches.

Shark experts around the Lowcountry say anytime you are in the ocean, sharks are in there with you. That might sound scary, but with thousands of people in the ocean off of South Carolina daily during the summer, only five people were bitten by sharks in the Palmetto state last year. Marine Biologists say, when you think about it that way, the odds are pretty slim.

Jen Skoy, Shark Aquarist at the South Carolina Aquarium, says, “You’re more likely to be injured by like a coconut or a vending machine than a shark.”

Bryan Fraizer, DNR Marine Biologist, says, “I think people certainly feel like humans are on the menu for sharks, and that’s just not true. You know, if sharks were actually out to eat people, they would have ample opportunities, and we would see a lot more bites.”

South Carolina had five shark bites last year, and none of them fatal. In fact, since data first started being collected more than 170 years ago, there have only been 82 shark attacks along our coasts.

Fraizer says,  “Typical of South Carolina, it’s an accidental bite. They grab you, immediately realize that you’re not their prey and release you. Usually it only involves a few stitches. Most wounds are really minimal in nature.”

However, of the bites along South Carolina coasts, more than one third of them happened in Charleston-area waters. So, experts gave us five ways for beachgoers to minimize the risk.

Skoy says, “You’ve got a lot of activity around fishing piers, you’ve got the hooks going in with bait, dead fish or some kind of bait that’s attracting things in. Not an area that I personally would swim near.”

Fraizer says, “When you see a school of bait fish on the service, pelicans diving, things like that, a lot of fish splashing, you probably want to go ahead and move out of that area. Let the school of fish go by because there’s probably predators feeding on those fish. At the same time, you cannot wear shiny jewelry in the water, avoid bright colors, also avoid swimming at sunset and sunrise. These areas tend to be when sharks are feeding a little more aggressively.”

And if you find yourself in a compromising situation…

Skoy says, “Sharks are really sensitive on the face. So going to hit towards the face or toward the nose would make them swim away really quickly.”

The shark experts also stressed that these two shark attacks on Oak Island should not discourage people from enjoying the ocean. They say the frequency and severity of these cases are very rare and isolated incidents.

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