NC beach towns, experts should assess ways to lower shark risks

Perhaps, when all is said and done, there is no way to absolutely prevent the awful shark attacks that cost two young people limbs late Sunday afternoon at Oak Island on the North Carolina coast. But the awareness of the dangers of shark attacks on the coast is now at a fever pitch.

The attacks, less than two hours apart, were horrific. One 12-year-old girl lost part of her arm and had a serious leg injury, and a 16-year-old boy lost his left arm. They survived, but their lives will be forever changed.

Both youngsters were assisted by other beachgoers who helped control bleeding and got quick help. The two attacks followed another attack on a 13-year-old girl on Thursday at Ocean Isle Beach. She sustained minor injuries.

Some beach visitors may now choose to enjoy the sand and the surf from a distance. Others will continue to swim and wade despite the fact the attacks were in waist-deep water about 20 yards offshore. It’s true such attacks are rare, though the increase around the country has been significant as more people have enjoyed beaches over the last decades. North Carolina has seen 25 shark attacks since 2005, none of them fatal, according to statistics compiled by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Beach communities must come together to talk about how to cope with the risk of shark attacks and how to reduce it. More lifeguards, something that’s under the control of beach towns, would seem to be a necessity. That won’t prevent attacks, of course, but it will serve to warn people, and it could be life-saving in the event of an attack if guards with first-aid training are at the scene and able to perform a rescue and provide immediate care.

And perhaps scientists specializing in research related to sharks and other coastal issues can provide more information about the nature of the dangers and ways to reduce them.

As North Carolina beaches head into the busiest season, it’s important for visitors to be aware that with the joys in connecting with nature there are hazards. In entering the water, they enter a new environment.

Rapid responses by people on the beach and modern medicine saved the lives of the young victims. Now coastal officials and scientists must work together to help prevent more attacks.