29 August 2005

US: Visitors to Myrtle Beach take shark threat in stride

Visitors to the Grand Strand's beaches say this week's two shark bites aren't deterring them from getting in the water, and local scientists say that's the right response for such an unlikely occurrence.

"Worldwide, you're more likely to be killed by a coconut falling from a tree than to be bitten by a shark."

"It doesn't alarm me because of the rarity of the incidents," said Antoine DeLoach, who was in town for a family reunion. "If it was an increasing number, then maybe I'd reconsider."

Dan Abel, assistant professor of Marine Science at Coastal Carolina University, said beach lovers need to put the shark bites in perspective. Watercraft, surfboards, jellyfish, bacterial infections and rip currents all pose a greater threat than shark attacks, Abel said.

"We tend to get frightened by the infinitesimally small chance," he said. "Worldwide, you're more likely to be killed by a coconut falling from a tree than to be bitten by a shark."

DeLoach said he still plans to be vigilant in the waters until he heads home to Philadelphia.

"It might be one in a million, but I don't want to be that one," he said.

Abel said many shark run-ins in this area usually are a result of mistaken identity. When the shark realizes it's biting something other than a fish, the shark lets go of the human most of the time, Abel said.

"It's their environment," he said. "People get in the water, the water's murky and the shark thinks it's eating fish."

Sharks are off the Grand Strand's coast year-round, but the blacktip sharks likely responsible for this week's two bites are migratory, Abel said.

An 8-year-old Pennsylvania boy bitten Aug. 21 is recovering from deep bites on his back and side. A 17-year-old Canadian was bitten Monday near Sixth Avenue South, and his injuries were treated by a lifeguard.

South Carolina had one shark bite last year and has no fatal attacks since the 1800s.

Linda Young, a visitor from West Virginia, said she still goes in the ocean but likes to think there are no sharks around.

"I had my grandkids with me last weekend, so of course I was a little more careful," she said. Young said she takes the recommended precautions: avoiding swimming near piers, in deep water and during dawn or dusk. Beyond that, she said she hopes for the best.

Anne Buzzelli from New York has the same approach when she and her husband allow their two kids to play in the water. The parents take turns watching over the children when they're in the ocean.

"We hadn't heard about [the shark bites]," she said, "but usually we're not too worried. We just enjoy the beach."

Source: www.myrtlebeachonline.com


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