By Logan Dubel
The dog days of summer are in full swing, and people have enjoyed the increasingly warm ocean for the past few months. As people flock to the waters of Ocean City each year, not only do they cool off, but they also enter the habitat of creatures almost larger than life – sharks. Before this week, there had never been a recorded shark attack in Ocean City, but visitors are anxious following a recent once-in-a-lifetime incident. The shocking possible attack serves as a reminder that the time is always right to be cautious and know how to stay safe.
While vacationing at the 119th Street beach on Monday, a 12-year-old Plains Township girl faced the unthinkable when approached by what was likely a shark in just knee-deep water. Initially, she presumed she had brushed a horseshoe crab. Following the moment of impact, the young girl, who was boogie boarding, limped out of the ocean and noticed extreme bleeding. She then saw cuts up and down her leg while beachgoers and lifeguards rushed to provide first aid. Once lifeguards helped clean the wound, the family and daughter went to Atlantic General Hospital, where she received 42 stitches for 20 cuts.
An investigation conducted by the Ocean City Beach Patrol in coordination with the Department of Natural Resources found that a small sandbar shark was the likely culprit of the attack. Although experts cannot make the conclusion for certain, they are confident in their findings, as the sandbar shark is the most prevalent “big fish” in the Mid-Atlantic.
Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin reminds beachgoers that this was not the type of attack some on social media have portrayed it to be. Arbin told local media outlet Delmarva Now that the bite was accidental and the sandbar shark was surely not looking to harm the young girl. Thankfully, the incident has not kept people from enjoying the ocean throughout the week.
Still, the shark bite is historic, marking the first probable bite ever in Ocean City and just one of few in Maryland over the past several centuries.
Visitors must be vigilant when entering the ocean, even though interactions with sharks are extremely rare, especially in Maryland.
Caught on Camera
Just last month, a visitor caught a shark fin on camera at 142nd Street, garnering the attention of thousands on social media. Shortly after taking the photo, the tourist said many of the surfers and swimmers noticed the fin above the surface and quickly swam to shore. It is unclear which type of shark was swimming near the sand that day, but countless species are possibilities.
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources , sandbar, dusky, spinner, scalloped hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, tiger, sand tiger, Atlantic sharpnose, smooth dogfish, and blacktip sharks are all available near the shoreline throughout the summer and early fall. A DNR spokesperson reminds beachgoers that while sightings may occur during the summer, bites or attacks are almost nonexistent. The odds of a shark attack are just 1 in 11.5 million, as reported by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).
How to Avoid Sharks
To avoid attracting sharks while swimming, there are a few general tips. First, never wear shiny jewelry or sequins and avoid swimming at dawn or dusk. Sharks frequently hunt in the dark and have much better awareness than humans do at those times. Additionally, try not to swim in areas with drop-offs or sand bars. Other tips include never swimming alone because sharks are more likely to approach an individual and avoiding nonstop splashing. After all, erratic movements can convince sharks that prey are nearby. Entering the water with an open wound would also be a major mistake, as sharks can sense tiny traces of blood. Finally, never swim near fishermen because they very well may be shark fishing and have bait in the water. Fishermen and marinas can chip in to safety efforts by not dumping fish carcasses into prominent swimming areas or the inlet.
In the rare event that a swimmer would encounter a shark, stay calm and do not confront them. Shockingly enough, many sharks are simply curious and not interested in attacking humans unprovoked. Surely alert a lifeguard but remain calm and stay out of the shark’s way. If the situation escalates to the point of fighting back against the shark, experts recommend attacking sensitive areas such as the nose, gills, or eyes, even with your bare hands.
No matter the case, the Ocean City Beach Patrol will be ready to act in an emergency.
“We clear the water for any type of danger to swimmers. We have cleared the water when a piece of debris like a log or piling is in the surf,” said Captain Arbin. “This summer, we cleared the water around 2nd Street because a pod of porpoise was feeding in the trough between the sandbar and the beach.”
Although the average tourist wants to steer as clear as possible from sharks, some fishermen work to attract them. Back in 2016, Ocean City faced a massive problem as sharked fishing using the methods of chumming and blood-baiting surged at the north end of town. Fishermen used extremely large baits to bring in sharks using methods other than the traditional rod and reel. Videos showed a man allegedly operating a business that allowed people to reel in sharks and pose with them on the sand.
Swift to take action, the Ocean City Council passed an emergency ordinance effectively banning this type of activity in the resort. Five years later, these activities remain illegal, and the town is working diligently to remind tourists that not only are these actions unlawful, but extremely dangerous.
Each summer, beach safety is heavily emphasized, and for good reason. However, following these tips to avoid sharks, a rare threat, helps tourists to know the facts before embracing the hysteria that often takes over the resort when shark sightings occur. Stay educated and have fun while swimming in the waters of Ocean City.