OAK ISLAND, NC (WECT) - A world-renowned shark expert calls the Sunday shark bites at Oak Island highly unusual, specifically because of the severity of the injuries. Of the 52 attacks in the US last year, Dr. George Burgess says only one or two resulted in serious injuries.
Burgess, who works for the University of Florida and is the director for the Florida Program for Shark Research, says less than 5 percent of shark attacks in the US result in the loss of limbs. Both victims, in two bites that happened 90 minutes apart in Oak Island, on Sunday afternoon lost an arm, and the 12-year-old girl was in danger of losing her leg.
Dr. Burgess says most shark bite victims are bitten by blacktip and spinner sharks, which feed on fish. When they bite humans, it's usually a case of "mistaken identity" and the shark moves on after realizing their human victims are not fish.
In the bites on Sunday, Burgess suspects a bull or tiger shark, which tend to feed on larger prey. Although we may never know, Burgess said experts may be able to compare the bites on the two victims to determine if the same shark was responsible for biting both victims.
As for whether this could happen again, Dr. Burgess told us, "It would be prudent for the beach to be closed today." He said this was either something ecological attracting sharks to the beach, or the same shark that bit two different victims. In the event it was something ecological attracting the sharks, that could still be happening, leaving swimmers at risk.
Alternatively, if this was the work of a single shark, Burgess said it would be futile for anyone to try to track this shark down and kill it. He said sharks are highly migratory, and it could have traveled 40 miles away by now.
There have been multiple reports from viewers that fisherman have been chumming the water along Ocean Crest Pier. Burgess said that was a "very poor" thing to do if swimmers were nearby, and said officials should look into regulating that. He said at the very least, officials should enforce a buffer so people were not swimming in the same water fisherman were throwing chum into that attracts sharks.
Officials in Oak Island said on Monday they were now exploring such regulations. They have not closed the beach. Authorities are patrolling the area by helicopter on the lookout for sharks, relaying any shark sightings to beach-goers via emergency personnel stationed on the ground. Oak Island does not man its beaches with lifeguards.