Tim Holloman, town manager of Oak Island, one of two barrier islands off the North Carolina coast where the shark attacks happened, said the town has no ordinance authorizing officials to order the surf cleared even if sharks present a threat. And a state law guarantees public access to beaches.
Even on beaches with lifeguards “the standard is to clear the immediate area and warn people,” said Chris Brewster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association. “It’s up to people to make their own decisions.”
George Burgess, director for the Florida Program for Shark Research, told WECT-TV that the Oak Island beach should close. “It would be prudent for the beach to be closed today,” he told the station.
He told WECT-TV that either something ecological was attracting sharks to the beach, or the same shark bit two different victims. If it was something ecological attracting the sharks, that could still be happening, leaving swimmers at risk.
Regardless of what authorities decided, most beachgoers Monday seemed to voluntarily stay out of the water – or at least remained in very shallow areas where they were less likely to encounter a shark.
“We’re not going to go in as far,” said Devin Dorian, 24, who was playing volleyball in the surf with friends from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
Holly Helmig, 39, of Raleigh watched her 6-year-old son bobbing on a boogie board in shin-deep water instead of splashing in the waves farther out. Her 5-year-old daughter Zoe shoveled sand in a bucket next to her.
“It’s pretty obvious we’re staying close to the shore,” she said. “I talked to the kids about it before we came.”
Deputies saw a 7-foot shark Sunday in an area between the two places where the attacks happened, Sheriff John Ingram said. Sharks of that size are common along the coast, Holloman said, and authorities are not trying to hunt one down. But safety officials scouted for sharks from boats and a helicopter Monday. One was spotted Monday morning, Holloman said.