When is a shark “attack” merely a shark “encounter”?

When the near-shark experience doesn’t include aggressive intent by a creature that many of our species still regard with “Jaws”-like dread.

So for lots of Post and Courier readers, it was a relief to read Tuesday’s story downgrading the initially reported account of a 10-year-oldsurfer’s experience with an 8-foot bull shark last Sunday at Folly Beach.

According to our original story on the incident in Monday’s paper, that fearsome fish had “attacked” the young surf-contest competitor by biting his board, with the lad escaping physically unscathed but understandably shaken.

But Tuesday’s Post and Courier, citing updated accounts from contest and state wildlife department officials, reported: “The big shark that raised alarm here Sunday apparently just tangled in the leash of a young surfer who leapt from his board.”

Mel Bell, fisheries management director for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, explained: “It’s a scary episode, but it obviously wasn’t an aggressive attack. It was a random encounter with an animal.”

It’s also reassuring to know that no more than five people annually have been by sharks in S.C. waters in this century.

Still, when you enter the briny deep in these parts, you swim with sharks where they hold a lopsided home-realm advantage.

And when a shark comes your way, how can you be sure it’s just a “random encounter” rather than an “aggressive attack”? And who wants to waste precious time making a distinction?

Best to just skedaddle.