Beachgoers in Myrtle Beach were stranded on the sand for about two hours Thursday afternoon when four different people said they were bitten by sharks.
The bites were reported over a 10-minute span between 72nd Avenue north and 82nd Avenue North, but police have not confirmed if a shark is to blame, and experts say it’s unusual to have so many bites on the Grand Strand in the early afternoon. Swimming wasn’t allowed as a precaution while Myrtle Beach police investigated.
Myrtle Beach police took photos of the injuries and are planning to send them to the University of Florida for a research team to review them to determine what kind of marine animal was involved, Capt. David Knipes said Friday.
A lifeguard on duty was more certain about what caused the bites, even though he didn’t see anything in the ocean.
“Nobody saw them,” said lifeguard Denny Starr. “Even the guys that got bit didn’t see it. They’re definitely shark bites. One guy’s foot was opened up. The other had a full mouth print around his leg.”
Starr was on duty around 76th Avenue North around 1:20 p.m. when the bites were reported and didn’t see the other injuries. One was at 72nd Avenue North and the other was at 82nd Avenue North, Knipes said on Thursday.
Three people were taken by EMS to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center and the fourth drove himself.
It’s not likely the same animal bit all four people, according to marine science professor and local shark expert Dan Abel. Without seeing pictures of the bite marks he couldn’t say for sure what kind of shark it may have been, but said black tip sharks are most probable in this instance.
“The likelihood of anything else being around and biting is not real high,” Abel said. “It could be blue fish bites, but that’s not really likely. It was probably not one shark and it was probably black tip sharks inshore feeding and mistaking people.”
What is unusual is the number of bites for the area. Abel said four bites in quick succession and in close proximity is not normal for the Grand Strand’s coast, but the weather all week could have contributed to the bites.
“The water is probably murkier than usual,” he said. “Their senses simply don’t allow them to distinguish between a human limb and a fish.”
Brian and Tracy Hoodin were walking on the beach near 77th Avenue North the same time the bites were reported.
“We saw two groups of people out of the water and said something must have happened,” Brian Hoodin said. “They had one guys leg wrapped up and the other had his foot wrapped up.”
He said they couldn’t see anything else, though and that the lifeguards and EMS had circled the victims and kept bystanders at a distance until they were carted off the beach.
Abel said a black tip shark could have a bite between three and six inches in diameter.
The beaches covering the northern end of the city remained closed for about two hours while city police pieced together details. Cpl. Mike Guthinger said the closure of the waters was to keep everyone safe, but not necessarily from sharks.
“I’ve got all my beach patrol tied up and the lifeguards are tied up,” he said. “We don’t want to need to do any rescues while we’re all tied up.”
Earlier this month, a 25-year-old man was bit in the foot about 7:45 p.m. while swimming near the 2nd Avenue Pier in Myrtle Beach, police said.
The time and place of that bite is more expected than the Thursday afternoon incidents, according to Tim Handsel the director of husbandry at Ripley’s Aquarium.
“Typically sharks feed at dawn and dusk,” he said. “Unless there’s a school of fish they’re interested in moving along the coast, or a lot of fishing activity where there is cut bait. Those are all cues to predators and sharks being efficient predators will pick up on those cues and come to investigate.”
Abel and Handsel said it’s not surprising nobody saw any sharks.
Abel said black tips are like ghosts in the water and will swim in and out of view without the swimmer noticing, and Handsel said it’s the nature of any predator to stay out of sight.