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Officials mount search for shark that attacked teens in Oak Island

Katie Simunich reacts to the shark attacks at Oak Island

Katie Simunich, on vacation at Oak Island, talks about the weekend shark attacks and how she's staying cool, but cautious.
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Katie Simunich, on vacation at Oak Island, talks about the weekend shark attacks and how she's staying cool, but cautious.

Emergency officials on Monday took to boats and helicopters in a hunt for the shark they say attacked two youths in waist-deep water Sunday in coastal North Carolina, leaving them both severely injured with lost limbs.

The boy, 16, and girl, 12, were hurt in separate attacks reported about 90 minutes apart in Oak Island, a seaside town about 30 miles south of Wilmington.

Multiple media outlets have identified the girl as Kiersten Yow, of Archdale, and Hunter Treschel, from Colorado Springs, Colo. Officials said the girl was vacationing with her family while the boy was visiting relatives in the area.

In the wake of the town’s first shark attack since the 1970s, Oak Island emergency personnel combed the beach and planned to extend their search for the shark into Tuesday, said Town Manager Tim Holloman.

After Sunday’s attacks, bystanders reported spotting a 7-foot shark in the water, but emergency officials did not see any from a helicopter, he said.

The incidents prompted officials to cancel a surfer’s camp scheduled at the beach this week but didn’t stop them from keeping the entire beach open because “there’s no way for us to control” sharks appearing near shore, said Oak Island Fire Chief Chris Anselmo.

“We have 9 miles of beach and more entry points that we can man,” he said. “What we can do is just advise beach-goers to be careful if they do enter the water. We can’t stop them from entering.”

The town doesn’t have any signs that warn swimmers about sharks, and there are no lifeguards stationed at the beach.

“Right now, we don’t have any way to fund those types of extra positions in the summertime,” Holloman said. “The … townspeople have not mentioned it being an issue. Even in this particular instance, I’m not sure it would have made an appreciable difference.”

Last week, a 13-year-old girl on a boogie board suffered lacerations on her foot after a shark attacked her in Ocean Isle Beach, a small town about 30 miles south of Oak Island. There’s speculation that her attack might be related to Sunday’s, but so far, “there’s been no serious correlations,” Holloman said.

Sunday’s first attack, on Yow, happened at about 4:40 p.m. near the Ocean Crest Fishing Pier, officials said. She lost part of her arm and suffered a leg injury. In the second attack, reported at about 5:50 p.m. near the 55th Street beach access – about 3 miles northeast of the fishing pier – Treschel lost his left arm, which was severed just below his shoulder, officials said.

The boy had “extensive hemorrhaging,” and officials struggled to control his bleeding, said Brunswick County EMS Director Brian Watts. If not for the intervention of bystanders, including one of the boy’s friends, “we would have had a really different outcome,” he said.

Both victims were about 20 yards offshore in waist-deep water when they were attacked, officials said. The victims were airlifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, hospital spokeswoman Martha Harlan said. They had surgery, and their condition has progressed from fair to good, she said.

Dr. Borden Hooks said the boy’s left arm was amputated above the elbow after it had been bitten through. He said the girl’s family asked that her injuries not be discussed.

Hooks said it was too early to know the long-term outcome of the cases. “I can only tell you that they’ve made a lot of advances in prosthetic limbs,” he said.

Both victims remained hospitalized Monday night. Efforts to reach family members were unsuccessful. Treschel’s mother issued a statement, thanking doctors, emergency room staff, police and bystanders who helped her son.

Witness accounts

Greg Gallihugh, a fisherman from Charlottesville, Va., saw the attack on the girl from the Ocean Crest pier. When a crowd gathered on the beach, he thought at first someone had been pulled from the surf after drowning.

He had seen a school of sharks – big ones, maybe bull sharks – feeding around the pier Sunday. Water conditions were murky.

“Maybe it’s one rogue bull shark,” said Gallihugh, who has been coming to Oak Island to fish for 15 years. “Every now and then you get one.”

Buck Clark, a contractor from Crozet, Va., saw the commotion on the beach where the girl was attacked.

“It probably didn’t know what it was biting,” Clark said.

Children were riding boogie boards in the surf all around the area and the shark might have mistaken them in the turbidity of the surf as turtles, which sharks feed on. He has been fishing in the area for years and has seen hundreds of sharks in the waters off Oak Island.

“There’s always sharks here,” he said. “But no shark attacks.”

Hubert Reaves, born and raised in nearby Bolivia, has been coming to the shore for all his 69 years.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he said.

“We can’t control this ocean,” Reaves said. “We don’t know what’s out there.”

What kind of shark was it?

Officials would not say what kind of shark attacked the youths, or if they believe it was the same one. One expert said he believes a lone bull shark attacked the teens.

“There’s not a lot of cases of these kinds of bites occurring in such proximity, both time and distance,” said Dan Abel, a professor of marine science at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach. “My best guess is that this is a single shark.”

He theorized that a bull shark – a “robust-looking … typical shark-looking beast” indigenous to warmer waters and known for their aggressive bite – might be responsible.

“They’ve got very sharp, serrated teeth that are good for shearing, unfortunately,” he said. “They do penetrate into fresh water in parts of the developing world where people are in freshwater fishing or even washing clothes. They will periodically bite people.”

Despite Sunday’s incidents, Abel said shark attacks are infrequent and “low likelihood events.” Thirty-four shark attacks were reported in North Carolina between 2001 and 2014, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Unusual event

On Monday, Oak Island’s beaches were active, but few people were venturing beyond the toe-dipping range.

A sheriff’s helicopter flew sorties up and down the beach, but there were no fins to be seen in the water, beyond a school of dolphin characteristically bobbing offshore at midday.

There was plenty of chumming going on, but by nature – a school of bluefish was feeding on bait fish around the Ocean Crest pier and seabirds were nipping the leftovers. Sunday’s big sharks apparently moved north with the current, fishermen said.

But the attacks attracted something usually seen in Oak Island only when the big storms hit – TV crews from CNN and The Weather Channel.

Mitzi York, executive director of the Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority, doubts widespread news of the attacks will hinder tourism.

“I think a lot of folks understand that this is a highly … extraordinary incident,” she said. “It’s certainly not that commonplace.”

The Associated Press contributed.

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