‘Jaws’ Is Back
Why Sharks Are Hungry for Human This Summer
One after another over the past month, swimmers have been chomped on by sharks. Why a healthier sea and climate change could both be to blame.
In the past century, there have been 54 confirmed shark attacks on the North Carolina shore.
In the past month, there have been seven.
Two occurred on June 14 within 90 minutes of each other on Oak Island.
A 12-year-old girl lost her left arm and part of her leg.
And 16-year-old boy lost his left arm.
The boy’s name is Hunter Treschel, and he made a remarkable YouTube video from his hospital bed.
The first part of his account is right out of the movie Jaws, which scientists theorize is making a real-life comeback in North Carolina due to a combination of factors that might be tied to climate change: increased water temperature and a drought-induced reduction in freshwater runoff that has led to increased salinity of the seawater, all of which makes for conditions sharks prefer.
There are other factors likely tied to what might otherwise be welcomed as signs of a healthier sea: a bloom of baitfish and a greater abundance of sea turtles, which sharks seem to find particularly tasty.
The result for young Hunter announced itself with a nudge.
“I was just in about waist-deep water I would say, playing with my cousin…and I felt this kind of hit on my left leg…like it was a big fish coming near you or something,” he recalls in the video. “Then I felt it, like, one more time. Then it kind of hit my arm.”
He goes on, voice steady, “That was the first I saw it, when it was biting up my left arm, kind of. And then it got that off, eventually.”
He begins to say that the shark swam away, but he wants to be precise.
“I don’t know if it swam away, but I was able to move and I got out of the water with the help of my cousin and onto the beach,” he says.
He describes being rushed to an emergency room, where a trauma team leapt into action.
“It was actually quite a spectacle,” he says.
He remained conscious until the anesthesia was administered. Surgeons set to cleaning up the area just below the shoulder where his arm had been torn away.
“Did a pretty good job on it, too, from what I hear,” he now reports.
He adds as if he were saying nothing remarkable, “It feels good.”
His spirit is certainly intact.
“I’ve lost my arm, obviously, so I have kind of two options,” he continues. “I can try to live my life like I was and make an effort to do that, even though I don’t have an arm. Or I can just let this be completely debilitating and bring my life down and ruin it, in a way.”
A video that starts out seeming like a summer horror blockbuster made too real is turning into a film clip of purest inspiration.
“Out of those two, there’s really only one that I would actually choose to do, and that’s to try to fight and live a normal life with the cards that I’ve been dealt,” he says.
Here is our species at its best.
We shone again on June 26, after 47-year-old Patrick Thornton became the latest to feel a tug in the waters off North Carolina. He then realized that he and his 8-year-old son, Jack, were being swarmed by four sharks.
One of them took a chunk out of Thornton’s leg but retreated after he punched it. His son remained in danger and he grabbed the boy, shielding him with his body as he made for the beach.
“As I was bringing him to shore, the shark came over again and bit me in the back,” Thornton later told a television reporter. “And this time he bit me really, really hard.”
Thornton called out a warning to a family swimming nearby. They credit him with saving them from similar injury.
“Our hero,” they called him.
The seventh attack came around noon on Wednesday, when a man identified as former Boston newspaper editor Andrew Costello went for a dip opposite a lifeguard tower on Ocracoke Island, which has been rated one of the best beaches in the world.
Costello had reportedly swum out past the breakers when he quite literally bumped into many a swimmer’s nightmare.
He suddenly found himself being dragged underwater and bitten around his rib cage, lower leg, and hip. His hands were also bitten as he sought to push his assailant away.
After he managed to escape, he headed for shore. He was met in knee-deep water by the lifeguards.
As if directed by a young Steven Spielberg, a woman ran along the sand shouting for boogie-boarding kids and other bathers to get back on land.
Meanwhile, the lifeguards set Costello on a towel and began to administer first aid. A call went out for an ambulance.
“Reporting that they had a victim that has been wounded by marine life,” says Justin Gibbs, director of Hyde County emergency services.
Medics responded and set to stemming the bleeding and checking Costello’s vital signs.
“We were able to ascertain from the victim during treatment that it was a shark, gray in color, 6 to 7 feet long,” Gibbs reports.
Costello was given intravenous fluids because his blood pressure had dropped, but he remained remarkably upbeat during a 45-minute wait for a medevac helicopter.
“He was in good spirits,” Gibbs says.
And that seems to be the way almost everybody has responded as shark after shark off North Carolina has reminded us that nature can be a very bad neighborhood.
While the odds of being attacked by a shark remain small even there, you can minimize them further by heeding a list of advice compiled by George H. Burgess of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Florida.
• Always stay in groups, as sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
• Do not wander too far from shore—this isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance.
• Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours, when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
• Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound, and enter with caution if menstruating—a shark’s olfactory ability is acute.
• Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
• Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
• Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks—both often eat the same food items.
• Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright-colored clothing—sharks see contrast particularly well.
• Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
• Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs—these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
• Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one.
But if you ever do encounter that nudge followed by a bite—or for that matter any other serious misfortune in the sea or back ashore—remember the spirit demonstrated by young Hunter Treschel, who responded to a horror out of the movie Jaws with a video that could be called Grit.