FOLLY BEACH — It wasn’t an attack: The big shark that raised alarm here Sunday apparently just tangled in the leash of a young surfer who leapt from his board.
By the numbers
0 — Number of fatal shark strikes in S.C. since 2000.
0-5 — Number of shark “attacks” or bites in S.C. each year since 2000.
40 — Approximate number of shark species native to South Carolina waters.
1883 — Last reported fatality from a shark in S.C..
S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources, Florida Museum of Natural History
That’s what observers said happened when a large shark said to be a bull cut short a surfing contest at the Washout about 5:30 p.m. That tallies with what state biologists know about the species.
The shark didn’t take a bite out of the board; it tore the leash. A pre-teen on the board freed himself from the leash and swam to shore.
And no, a report that anglers were chumming the waters near the tournament apparently isn’t accurate. The chumming incident was observed near swimmers at Sullivan’s Island.
The contest incident “was an encounter rather than an attack. A close call, that’s what it was,” said Nancy Hussey, Eastern Surfing Association district director who was running the tournament. Hussey plans to finish the postponed tournament in early September.
Sharks are in coastal waters all the time; murky, hard-to-see conditions for man and beast make occasional encounters inevitable. Charleston County Park and Recreation lifeguards will call in swimmers a few times a year as a precaution when fins are sighted, said Sarah Reynolds, of the commission.
The surfing tournament had been delayed for a half-hour that morning as a precaution after fins were spotted in the surf, Hussey said.
Mel Bell, S.C. Department of Natural Resources fisheries management director, said incidents here normally are nips at a leg by a shark momentarily mistaking a swimmer for prey; he couldn’t recall an incident like what happened Sunday.
“It’s a scary episode, but it obviously wasn’t an aggressive attack. It was a random encounter with an animal,” Bell said.
“The sharks are out there. You have to be vigilant. It’s the Atlantic Ocean,” Hussey said. But “we have more problems with jellyfish than anything else.”
As for chumming — tossing hunks of bloody bait or meat into the water to attract sharks — it’s not illegal unless local laws prohibit it, said Capt. Robert McCullough of the DNR. But “You’ve got to be careful about where you go, what you do. Anywhere people are going to be in the water — use common sense.”
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