South Carolina ranks third in the number of shark bites in the last decade, according to a report released this week by a website called SafeWise.
However, a breakdown of the numbers shows that only 31 unprovoked shark bites have occurred along the Grand Strand since 1837.
Most recently, a shark attack was reported Saturday in DeBordieu, neighboring Georgetown County, where a 12-year-old girl was transported to a local hospital to treat a bite on her thigh.
The statistics are based on information collected from the Florida Museum of Natural History operated by the University of Florida, which investigates all reported incidents and keeps a database called the international shark attack file.
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There’s been only one reported fatality in the history of the state, which occurred in the 1850s near Charleston, says Bryan Frazier, a marine biologist with the S.C. Natural Resources Department.
While South Carolina has seen 92 shark bites reported since 1837, more than 770 attacks were reported during the same period along Florida’s vast coastlines, according to the University of Florida.
Only unprovoked attacks are recorded by the university, not those that result when sharks are caught by fishermen, harassed by divers and sometimes even swimmers.
The most prevalent species along the Grand Strand is the Atlantic sharpnose, a small coastal shark that maxes out at about three feet, Frazier said.
“It has teeth and it can bite you, but if it does, it’s not going to be bad – it might be a couple of stitches,” Frazier said.
“The species we think is responsible for most bites in South Carolina are blacktip sharks,” Frazier said. “And these guys do feed in the surf, and they’re actively feeding on menhaden and mullet, schools of bait that are often found off the front beaches.”
Most shark bites are a case of mistaken identity, in which the shark thinks a hand or toe is a fish.
Grand Strand locals often advise tourists to avoid swimming near the piers because that’s the most likely area to encounter a shark.
Frazier says it’s not the sport fishing activities along the piers that attract the sharks. The physical structure of the piers draws in the smaller fish, and the sharks simply follow.
In 1964, it was the Cherry Grove fishing pier in North Myrtle Beach where Walter Maxwell landed a record-breaking tiger shark that weighed in at 1,780 pounds.
Shark fishing from piers was banned soon afterward along the Grand Strand, but other sport fishing is allowed.
The SafeWise report says the risk of being attacked by a shark is more than 11 million to one, and that the odds are greater of getting struck by lightning, dying from the flu or being in a car accident.
However, the web site offered safety tips to beachgoers that include swimming in groups, staying close to shore, not swimming at night or at dawn, and watching for other sea life.
“Sharks eat fish, so if they see a school of fish, they’re likely to go for it. Stay away from water plants and animals, as they attract sharks and could endanger you,” the report said.