With the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week wrapping up — replete with the hubbub around Michael Phelps’ losing race against a computer-simulated shark — some beachgoers may find the predatory, oft-sensationalized fish weighing on their minds more than usual.
South Carolina does see occasional run-ins with sharks, but attacks are far from common. Through the beginning of this year, the state had recorded 88 unprovoked shark attacks since 1837, 33 of which occurred in Charleston County, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File.
It also ranked fifth among U.S. states for attacks in 2016, though those numbers are negligible, as well — the state’s two attacks were fewer than in North Carolina, California, Hawaii and perennial leader Florida.
So far in 2017, South Carolina beaches have had a couple of shark-related incidents. A woman at Folly Beach was bitten near the end of April, and a “possible” bite was reported at a beach in Georgetown County earlier that month.
Shark attacks in South Carolina have historically happened in the state’s more popular beachgoing areas. Charleston County leads the tally since 1837, according to the Shark Attack File, and Horry County follows with 31 incidents.
Shark activity in Horry County has been quiet this summer, but not abnormally so, said Sgt. Bill Muldoon, who leads the Horry County Police’s beach patrol. No bites have been recorded there this summer, and though people occasionally call authorities after spotting a shark, Muldoon said they don’t keep track of such reports.
“They say, ‘Hey, there’s a shark in the water,’ ” he said. “We say, ‘Yeah, that’s where they live.’ “
Nationwide, sharks last year bit only 56 of the tens of millions of people who went to the beach — according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 58 million people went to the beach in 2010. None of those attacks resulted in death, and only four people worldwide died from shark attacks in 2016.
To put the risk into perspective, the Shark Attack File lists several scenarios more likely to kill a person than a shark. More people are killed by alligators and bears than by sharks. More are struck by lightning or killed in a tornado. Death by shark is less likely than death by sand.
Those concerned about what lurks beneath the waves can take several precautions to stave off shark attacks. Among those are avoiding the water at dusk, dawn or night, when sharks are more active; not wearing jewelry or bright colors; and avoiding places where people are fishing.