Shark bites girl at Coligny Beach
BY BEN CRITES, The Island Packet
Published Thursday, June 8, 2006
A 7-year-old girl was bitten by a shark Wednesday afternoon while playing in the surf at Coligny Beach, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
The Sheriff's Office said the doctor treating the girl found a tooth embedded in her left foot and thought it was a shark that bit her, even though incidents of shark bites are rare in the Lowcountry.
The girl, who was vacationing with her family, sustained several puncture wounds to her foot and buttocks during the incident at around 3:45 p.m. as she played in water about two-feet deep near the Breakers area of Coligny Beach, the Sheriff's Office said. She is the daughter of Amy B. Wallis of Ballwin, Mo., but the Sheriff's Office could not provide the girl's first name Wednesday evening.
Ralph Wagner, director of Shore Beach Service, said the girl's father brought her over to lifeguards, who immediately treated lacerations on the girl's foot. He said the incident was low-key and didn't alarm many beachgoers.
It initially was thought that the girl was stung by a stingray, Wagner said. An ambulance was called and took the girl to Hilton Head Regional Medical Center, where she continued to receive treatment Wednesday evening.
The Sheriff's Office said it appeared her injuries were not life-threatening.
Wednesday's shark-bite incident is the first reported to the Sheriff's Office this year, a release states.
Al Stokes, manager of the state Department of Natural Resources' Waddell Mariculture Center in greater Bluffton, said it's not surprising to find sharks or other marine wildlife in the surf this time of the year, as coastal waters warm and bait fish move inshore.
Sharks "are about all (local fisherman) are catching inshore right now," he said.
With the fish gravitating toward the shore, the chances of a bite have increased.
"If (the 7-year-old girl) was swimming around or thrashing about in the water," Stokes said, "it's very possible that a small shark had mistaken her for bait."
But biting incidents are very uncommon.
Charles Farmer, author of the book, "Sharks of South Carolina" and a 38-year DNR veteran, said an average of three people will be bitten by a shark in South Carolina waters each year.
Five nonfatal shark attacks were reported along South Carolina's coasts last year, according to the latest figures from the Florida Museum of Natural History.
On Hilton Head, the odds are even slimmer.
There hasn't been a report of a shark biting someone around the island since an 11-year-old boy was bitten while swimming off of Coligny Beach in 2001, according to Island Packet archives. He received 37 stitches from the attack. At the time, authorities couldn't confirm the bites were from a shark.
The last fatal shark attack off of Hilton Head occurred in 1883, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The majority of shark attacks in the United States happen in Florida, which reported 19 of the country's 39 attacks in 2005.
Yet now is the time of the most shark activity on Hilton Head, Farmer said.
About 14 species of sharks commonly are found in coastal waters in the state, including sandbar, black-tip, lemon, bull, tiger, hammerhead and Atlantic sharpnose. Most of the sharks move into coastal waters when the water begins to warm in April and stay until October or early November.
Farmer agreed with Stokes about the potential of a biting incident.
"Occasionally an animal will accidentally bump into a person, strike, release and swim away just as fast as you're trying to get out of the water," he said. "There has not been a case in 50 years where someone has been swimming and a shark will bite and come back."
Still, it's very rare, Farmer said.
"The likelihood of being bitten by a shark is extremely remote," he said, "and there's really nothing to worry about."
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