Scary sharks? The much maligned predators rarely hurt people but are common in the shallow waters off our coast

Great White shark

FOLLY BEACH - A 10-year-old boogie boarder bitten by a shark Wednesday at the Washout was the exception, not the rule. Sharks are abundant on the Lowcountry coast. But few people ever get even nipped.

The shark took several quick nips at the boy on Wednesday afternoon. The child's injuries aren't serious but needed stitches, Fire Chief Steve Mims said.

"It's not life threatening at all," Mims said. "He has several bites on his lower leg."

The child was bitten some 30-40 yards out in a rising tide, and paddled to the beach. He guessed the shark to be at least 4 feet long. Mims would not say whether the boogie boarder was a resident or vacationer, but the chief said he was impressed with his demeanor.

"The guy is in good spirits. He's a very brave guy. I would hope if that happened to me, I could be that composed," Mims said.

Some 40 species of the alpha predator swim in the ocean off Charleston. Yet, despite thousands of people in the water at a time during the summer, only six people were confirmed to have been bitten in the state in 2013.

The shark species - from the inches-long broadband lantern shark to the massive great white - is just one more impressive creature of the Lowcountry seascape. They are usually nearby. Anyone flying a small plane along the coast could see them hunting just across the breakers from beachgoers.

Most bites involve a paddler on a board or a person thrashing in roiling water, as the shark nips to check for prey. The last fatal attack by a shark in this state was in the 1850s, according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

It was a 5-foot shark that set off a social media buzz recently when it was photographed after being reeled in on the same stretch of beach. But most comment posters said the concern expressed by the poster was unwarranted or said people unfairly vilify the animals.

Great whites, tiger and bull sharks are responsible for far more than half the fatal attacks on humans in the past century. All of them are found off South Carolina.

  • Sharks are older than dinosaurs.
  • A new species of hammerhead shark was caught near Charleston and identified in 2013 by a University of South Carolina professor. Its common name is the Carolina hammerhead.
  • Sharks have incredible ranges; a dusky shark tagged near Charleston was recaptured two years later off of Belize, and a tiger shark tagged off Charleston was recaptured in the waters near the Dominican Republic only 70 days later.
  • One of the largest tiger sharks ever captured was a 1,780 pounder caught off South Carolina in 1964.

Atlantic angel shark, finetooth shark, spiny dogfish, sharpnose sevengill shark.

Statistically, you're more likely to be bitten by another person than a shark.

You're more likely to be killed by a falling coconut, dog, hornets, wasps or bees than a shark.

Twenty percent to 30 percent of sharks are close to extinction because of overfishing and bycatch, making humans a more aggressive predator than the "alpha predator" species.

Great whites are picky eaters that require a lot of fat; they will let go after a nip if the prey is not fat-laden. However, given the size of their teeth and strength of their jaws, even a nip can tear through an arm or cause a fatal wound.

  • Swim in groups.
  • Stay relatively close to shore.
  • Don't swim at dawn, dusk or night.
  • Don't swim while bleeding or wearing shiny objects.
  • Don't swim near bait fish or diving sea birds.
  • Don't assume the presence of dolphins indicates the absence of sharks.
400-plus Shark species worldwide. (At least 39 off South Carolina coast)
81Incidents of confirmed unprovoked shark attacks worldwide in 2012.
72Incidents in 2013 (lowest total since 67 in 2009)
46Percent of 2013 attacks involving surfing or other board sport.
31Percentage swimmers or waders.
23Incidents in Florida in 2013. (Leading state number.)
6South Carolina incidents.
2.1Percentage of U.S. attacks that were fatal (Hawaii, 1)

 

Sources: International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, Sharks of South Carolina by Charles Farmer.(S.C. Department of Natural Resources), South Carolina Aquarium, Shark Guardian, All About Wildlife