Shark bites injured two teenagers off the coast of the same North Carolina beach Sunday in two separate, successive incidents that experts called highly unusual, multiple news outlets reported.
Local officials said the first victim, a 13-year-old girl, was attacked after 4 p.m. along a beach in Oak Island, about 30 miles south of Wilmington, N.C. Less than two hours later, a 16-year-old boy was also bitten by a shark, about two miles from the original attack.
Both were airlifted to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where they both had their left arm amputated — below the shoulder for the boy, and below the elbow for the girl, hospital spokeswoman Martha Harlan said, according to The Washington Post.
The two have been in stable condition since Sunday night, Ms. Harlan said.
In a press conference Sunday, Oak Island town manager Tim Holloman said Oak Island and Brunswick County officials have teamed up to assess the situation, the Post reported. The beaches will be open and the town will deploy two helicopters to patrol the area Monday, he added, though Oak Island has not considered adding more lifeguards to the beaches.
“Oak Island is still a safe place,” Mr. Holloman said, according to Star News Online. “We're monitoring the situation. This is highly unusual.”
Shark attacks, especially successive ones such as Sunday’s, are indeed very rare, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
In 40 years of studying the animal, Mr. Burgess had seen only two cases of successive shark attacks, he told Star News Online: One in Florida 15 or 20 years ago, and another in Egypt in 2010.
The worldwide average for shark attacks is about 50 to 70 a year, while the US sees about 19 shark attacks a year and one fatality every two years. Based on the museum’s data, North Carolina has had only 25 shark attacks since 2005, none of them fatal.
“The number one myth is that all sharks are out to get us, and that's simply not true,” Burgess told Business Insider last year. “There are more than 4,000 species of sharks worldwide and only a couple dozen probably are involved in shark bites historically.”
Still, there are indications that some effects of climate change — such as rising sea temperatures and decreasing food sources — may be causing some shark species to swim in places they didn’t in the past, including areas with greater human activity.
And after Sunday’s incident, Burgess has advised beachgoers to be prudent.
“People shouldn’t be scared to go in the water, but they should be dutifully cautious," he told Star News Online. “Obviously there’s at least one shark out there that’s prone to biting and has sufficient size to have caused very serious injuries.”
People can also be proactive about their own safety. Some tips to avoid shark attacks, according to Discovery.com: Avoid swimming near fishing boats and anglers, which may attract sharks looking for easy prey. Colorful swimwear and shiny accessories also tend to appeal to sharks, “so save your flashy gear for terrestrial pursuits,” the site reads.
As much as possible, swim in groups or at least with one other person, and do not swim in areas where a shark attack has recently occurred.
Back at Oak Island, Holloman, the town manager, urged visitors and residents to keep to the beaches more so than the water, though he assured the public that local authorities will continue to do everything to keep the beaches safe.
“Every agency has mobilized its resources to address the situation,” Holloman told WECT-TV. “[O]ur thoughts and prayers are with the families at this time.”