OAK ISLAND, N.C. — A North Carolina beach town was staying on lookout Tuesday, but people were still swimming in the ocean after two youths were mauled by at least one shark over the weekend.
Boats and a helicopter continued scouting the surf for sharks, and officials advised adults to stay close to children and keep them in shallow water, Oak Island Town Manager Tim Holloman said. The town also advised people on how to avoid confronting a shark — for instance, by not swimming in late afternoon or evening when the big fish like to feed, Holloman said.
“But we have no regulations against swimming,” he said.
A 12-year-old Asheboro girl lost her left arm below the elbow and suffered a leg injury Sunday afternoon. Nearly 90 minutes later and 2 miles away, a shark bit off the left arm above the elbow of 16-year-old Hunter Treschel of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Treschel was in good condition Tuesday at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Martha Harlan said. Harlan said she could not say whether the girl remained at the hospital or was moved because her family asked that no information be shared with the public.
Last week, a 13-year-old girl suffered small lacerations on her foot from a shark bite on Ocean Isle Beach, about 15 miles from Oak Island. Both towns are on barrier islands just off the coast.
After Sunday’s second shark attack, Oak Island authorities drove along the beach on ATVs and shouted to warn people out of the water. But they acknowledged Monday that they didn’t make a concerted effort to warn people before that.
Holloman said the town has no ordinance authorizing officials to order the surf cleared even if sharks present a threat. And a state law guarantees public access to beaches.
Even on beaches with lifeguards “the standard is to clear the immediate area and warn people,” said Chris Brewster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association. “It’s up to people to make their own decisions.”
Regardless of what authorities decided, most beachgoers Monday seemed to voluntarily stay out of the water — or at least remained in shallow areas where they were less likely to encounter a shark.
Holly Helmig, 39, of Raleigh watched her 6-year-old son bobbing on a boogie board in shin-deep water instead of splashing in the waves farther out. Her 5-year-old daughter Zoe shoveled sand in a bucket next to her.
“It’s pretty obvious we’re staying close to the shore,” she said. “I talked to the kids about it before we came.”
Deputies saw a 7-foot shark Sunday in an area between the two places where the attacks happened, Sheriff John Ingram said. Sharks of that size are common along the coast, Holloman said, and authorities are not trying to hunt one down. But safety officials scouted for sharks from boats and a helicopter Monday. One was spotted Monday morning, Holloman said.
Lise Watson, a shark expert at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, said there is a likelihood that the same animal was behind both attacks. The smell of fish blood in the water that’s common around angling spots like a pier can excite a shark looking for a meal, she said.
“They also detect movement like the movement that a sick or weak fish would do by moving back and forth. That’s one of the reasons we feel that kids splashing at the shore” attract a shark, Watson said.
Experts say the number of shark attacks is increasing because more people are entering the ocean every year while the number of attacks per capita has remained consistent. Precautions to avoid an attack include avoiding the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active, staying together since sharks tend to attack individuals, and staying away from piers where fish are drawn by bait.
There were only 72 unprovoked shark attacks on humans around the world in 2014, including 52 in the U.S., according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Three of them — all outside the U.S. — were fatal. Shark researcher George Burgess, who oversees the database, said he’s aware of only two other multiple shark attacks on the same beach in one day.
Sharks that do bite humans typically let go when they realize that they don’t have a fish, he said.
“This by contrast, is an attack done by a larger shark that clearly goes after larger prey items,” Burgess said.