Warm, murky waters are thought to be one reason sharks have attacked swimmers in South Carolina more often in recent years than those in most other states.
South Carolina had more unprovoked shark attacks during a recent 10-year stretch than any other state in the South except Florida, according to a national consumer organization’s website.
Safewise.com’s findings show South Carolina had 39 shark attacks from 2007-2016, most in the Myrtle Beach and Charleston areas. People boogie-boarding, wading, swimming and surfing were among those attacked by sharks.
The website didn’t examine 2017 statistics, but The Island Packet reported earlier this year that South Carolina saw a spike in attacks last year.
Officials with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said they’re not surprised by the number of shark attacks. Conditions in South Carolina are ideal for a large variety of sharks to congregate near the beaches during the summer, officials said.
“Fortunately, the vast majority of bites reported in South Carolina are ‘drive-by’ bites by small coastal sharks that nip at feet/ankles and then swim away,’’ DNR spokeswoman Erin Weeks said.
South Carolina ranked third nationally in the number of shark attacks during the 10-year period ending in 2016, trailing only Florida with 244 and Hawaii with 65. North Carolina had 33 attacks.
In 2017, South Carolina ranked second nationally with 10 unprovoked shark attacks, more than double its yearly average, and behind only Florida with 31, according to the International Shark Attack File. Data for this summer are not complete.
North Carolina, which has summer weather similar to South Carolina, likely does not have the abundance of certain types of sharks, such as the black tip, Natural Resources shark biologist Bryan Frazier said Monday.
“South Carolina is the center of abundance along the East Coast for many of the species,’’ Frazier said in an email, emphasizing the number of bites in South Carolina has been generally low. Not counting last year, the average number of shark attacks in South Carolinja is about four per year.
Compared to North Carolina, South Carolina also tends to have murkier water, in some places, that makes it easier for sharks to mistake a swimmer for prey, Frazier said. The variability of the Gulf Stream may be part of the reason, he said. Georgia has similar conditions to South Carolina, but fewer developed beach areas, such as Myrtle Beach, Isle of Palms and Hilton Head Island, said Frazier and Lindsay French, with the International Shark Attack File in Florida.
“The more people you put in the water, the better chances of encountering a shark bite,’’ French said. “All of our South Carolina bites are going to be Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, all the highly trafficked beaches where there are just a lot of humans in the water.’’
None of the S.C. shark attacks during the 10-year period were fatal.
In comparison, California, with colder water, has fewer shark species near its beaches but tends to have the type — including great white sharks — that inflict more dangerous bites, Frazier said. While research increasingly shows great white sharks are off the S.C. coast, they tend to be more abundant in California.
The Safewise data used to compare shark attacks in different states came from the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack file, a leading source for shark attack data.
Statistics show South Carolina’s 39 shark attacks eclipsed North Carolina, which had 33 and Georgia, which had four. Texas had 11 and Alabama had three. California, which has one of the nation’s longest coast lines, had 33 unprovoked shark attacks, statistics show.
Overall, Safewise noted people are more likely to die from the flu, a car accident or a lightning strike than a shark attack. Still, it recommends swimmers avoid situations that could increase the chance of an attack, including swimming at night, when sharks are more active and entering the water with a bloody wound.