Kysen Weakley is going to have quite the story to tell his friends when he gets home from vacation.
The 12-year-old Utah boy was bitten by a shark while swimming Tuesday evening at Isle of Palms County Park. Eight stitches and a small limp later, he still can’t believe what happened.
“It’s surreal for him,” his mother, Alene Weakley, said in a Wednesday phone interview. “He’s like, ‘Mom, I can’t believe I’ve been bitten by a shark.’”
Weakley said her son had been swimming with his 7-year-old cousin for about 45 minutes when the attack occurred around 6 p.m. He was floating on the waves on his stomach about 10- to 15-feet out from the shore when he all of a sudden “he yelled to his cousin to get out of the water because he’d been bit.”
When Kysen got out of the water, there were teeth marks in his thigh and he was bleeding, his mother said.
“Both of us stayed relatively calm,” she said. “I just looked at him and said, ‘you’re OK, it’s OK.’”
Cynthia Wilson, IOP County Park manager, said the boy and his mother approached lifeguards as they were leaving just after 6 p.m. and asked for help. The guards provided “minor first aid” before the Fire Department arrived.
Weakley took Kysen to the doctor afterward, where she said they confirmed the bite was definitely from a shark.
No one saw the shark in the water except for Kysen, his mother said. He told her he saw the shark’s dorsal fin as it swam away. She guessed by her son’s description that it was between six and eight inches.
Wilson said shark bites at the park are very unusual. This is the first reported bite at the park this year.
“We don’t have very many of them; it’s a very rare thing for us,” she said.
Lifeguards are used to handling incidents involving stingrays and jellyfish and keep abreast of water conditions at all times. People can go to the beach anytime, Wilson said. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nearly all shark strikes are unintentional, with the animal mistaking humans for prey fish. There has been an uptick in bites along the coast of the Carolinas in recent months that has raised concerns among shark experts as well as the general public.
In South Carolina, a vacationer at Hunting Island State Park was bitten Friday and a man swimming off Sullivan’s Island also was bitten in May. Neither lost limbs.
In North Carolina on Wednesday, a man swimming off Ocracoke Island was bitten several times — the third attack in a week along the Outer Banks, according to various media sources.
Shark experts cite a number of factors including winds and salinity changes moving more prey fish closer to the beach, and winds roiling surf to make it more difficult for the shark to distinguish prey. At beaches near fishing piers, bait in the water also draws sharks.
Another factor the experts return to repeatedly is that there are simply so many more people getting in the water that the opportunities have increased for a shark bite. Americans made 2.2 billion visits to beaches in 2010, up from 2 billion in 2001, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate.
Weakley said she felt like her family was “protected” while swimming Tuesday because the shark bit Kysen quickly and then released him — something she said was unusual with shark attacks. She also said if someone had to be bit, she was glad it was her son and not his younger, smaller cousin.
“We honestly just feel very blessed,” Weakley said. “He’s a pretty tough little kid; he’s just amazing, really.”
Bo Petersen and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.