Tourism

Tourists being more cautious after shark bites in NC

Emergency responders assist a teenage girl at the scene of a shark attack in Oak Island, N.C., Sunday, June 14, 2015.
Emergency responders assist a teenage girl at the scene of a shark attack in Oak Island, N.C., Sunday, June 14, 2015. AP

The two shark bite incidents last week in nearby Oak Island, N.C., don’t seem to be scaring off Grand Strand tourists.

Officials said they’ve received a couple of calls from visitors headed to the Grand Strand for a vacation, but most aren’t staying away.

“People understand the inherent risk of getting in the water,” said George Durant, vice president of tourism development for the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. “There have been so few calls people are either well informed or it’s a non-issue.”

Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach, said his office had a couple of inquiries last week related to the shark incidents and a few calls asking whether the city’s beaches have lifeguards. He said people are just being a little more cautious.

“I think they are being cautious but not going to let the incidents in North Carolina prevent their fun,” he said. “Your odds of winning the lottery are probably better than getting bitten by a shark.”

Two teens were bitten by sharks in separate incidents about an hour apart Sunday while swimming in the ocean along Oak Island’s barrier island coast. Hunter Treschl, 16, of Colorado Springs, Colo., lost his arm in the shark attack about 5:50 p.m., and 12-year-old Kiersten Yow of Asheboro, N.C., lost her left arm below the elbow and suffered a leg injury when she was bitten about 4:40 p.m. near Ocean Crest Pier.

After hearing about those shark bites, Gail Grawberg of Michigan inquired online as to the status of sharks and jellyfish along the Grand Strand, saying her family vacationed in Myrtle Beach last year but was considering a last minute visit to the Surfside Beach area next week.

“With the recent shark attacks an hour away, we are nervous about going in the water and it is definitely a major factor when choosing our destination,” she said in an email. “We have a young child and he loves to splash around in the waves. We would be traveling a great distance to experience the ocean and want to be able to enjoy it.”

As of Friday morning, the Grawbergs were still undecided if they would make the trip, but noted that if they come, they will definitely stay close to shore.

Kruea said swimmers just need to be aware of their surroundings, not swim at dusk and never swim alone.

“The ocean is Mother Nature’s biggest representative,” he said. “Use a little common sense and you’ll have a great vacation.”

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce had fielded only one inquiry related to the shark attacks as of Thursday, spokesman Brad Dickerson said.

While North Myrtle Beach is located less than 45 miles from Oak Island, the city had not received inquiries about sharks last week, spokesman Pat Dowling said.

“If we do receive inquiries, my discussion would center on the fact that the ocean is home to a wide variety of species, and one of those is sharks,” Dowling said. “Most often, when sharks come inshore (into or near the ‘swim zone’) they are chasing fish to feed on. There is some potential for swimmers to wind up in the middle of that activity, which offers the potential for bumps or bites.”

Dowling said, however, that when you compare the number of genuine shark encounters along the Grand Strand with the millions of people who swim in the Atlantic Ocean each year, you could categorize shark bumps and bites as being very rare occasions. He noted that rip currents present a much greater danger to ocean swimmers than does marine life, because most people are not experienced ocean swimmers.

Like most beach communities offering lifeguard services, North Myrtle Beach has a flag system for various situations, Dowling said.

“If lifeguards see dangerous aquatic life, they will fly a purple flag, which encourages people to talk with a lifeguard before entering the water. If the beach is closed to swimming, double red flags will be flown,” he said.

Some individuals also worry about jellyfish bites. Dowling said jellyfish come and go along the Grand Strand and elsewhere, depending on the season and tide. He said their presence in any large numbers is usually short-lived and the public is notified of any large flotilla that is spotted.

“Many people tend to look at the ocean as being a bigger and better swimming pool but it’s not,” Dowling said. “It has its own ecosystem and people are not really part of that. So, folks should be aware that when they enter the ocean, there is life there. Pay attention to one another, and pay attention to the lifeguards.”

Swimmers also should avoid getting in the water after hours when lifeguards are no longer on the beaches, said Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.

“Our county beaches are monitored the best they can be,” she said, adding people just need to be aware of the hazards and follow the advice of lifeguards and the warning flags. She said of more frequent concern than animal bites are rip currents and cardiac arrests affecting elderly people who are not familiar with swimming in the ocean.

Ryan Griffin of Saluda, N.C., said news of the shark attacks at Oak Island would not prevent him from swimming in the ocean as normal when he arrives for a weeklong vacation in Garden City Beach starting this weekend.

“I wasn’t even aware of it [the shark attacks] but now we might limit how far out we go,” he said. “I think we’ll limit it to waist deep.”

Griffin, who frequently visits family along the Grand Strand, said this is the first time he, his five adult siblings, and their children have ever vacationed together. They are coming from as far away as Pennsylvania and Atlanta and have had the trip planned for some time.

“We are all looking forward to a week of good fun and family bonding,” he added. “We won’t allow the sharks to inhibit our fun.”

Angela Nicholas can be reached at aknicholas@sc.rr.com.

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