How Common Are Shark Attacks In The U.S.?

Some have described the events like a scene out of Jaws because it seemed too gruesome to be real. On Sunday, two teenagers were attacked by sharks off Oak Island, North Carolina, when they were swimming in waist-deep water. A girl and a boy were attacked within 90 minutes of each other. Both teens each had an arm amputated and were in critical condition before they were transported to a nearby hospital. The incident has completely rocked the town because one shark attack is rare enough as it is, let alone two in a row. In fact, shark attacks in the U.S. are rare in general.

According to eyewitnesses who spoke to CNN, the girl was attacked first, at around 4:15 p.m. Less than an hour and a half later, the boy was bitten about two miles away as the girl was still being tended to. Another eyewitness told NBC News, "Everybody was screaming, 'Get out of the water!'" He described the girl as "obviously going into shock" but still conscious. Both teens were airlifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where the girl's arm was amputated at the elbow and the boy's below the shoulder. The girl also suffered serious tissue damage on her leg. They have both been upgraded to fair condition.

The beach had not closed after the first attack, as it is not customary protocol to do so, according to Oak Island spokesman Kyle Thomas.


Fire Chief Chris Anselmo told CNN that the beaches will stay open on Monday, but law enforcement helicopters will be monitoring the waters.

The lack of protocol is perhaps because attacks like this are incredibly rare, especially in the U.S. According to USA Today, each year an average of six people die from shark attacks worldwide, and only an average of one person per year dies from a shark attack in the U.S. According to statistics compiled by the Florida Museum of Natural History, there have only been 12 fatal shark attacks in the U.S. since 2001. However, non-fatal attacks are much more likely, with 52 in the U.S. last year.


Among the most shark-infested waters in the U.S., the North Carolina coast is one of them, along with South Carolina, Florida, Hawaii, California, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. However, Oak Island Mayor Betty Wallace does not want the beach to have this kind of dangerous reputation. She told BBC News:

I don't want everybody to think this is one of those areas where you really have to worry about shark bites. But for the foreseeable future, people have to be extra vigilant.

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