Marine biologist explains type of sharks likely responsible for bites

A sandbar shark inside Ripley's Aquarium
A sandbar shark inside Ripley's Aquarium

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) -- Many people were back in the ocean Friday in the same area where less than 24 hours earlier something in the water bit four people.

The bites all happened near shore between 74th Avenue North and 82 Avenue North in Myrtle Beach Thursday afternoon.

Myrtle Beach Police officers said they believed the bites were from sharks. Bite victim Jordon Garofalo also said his doctor believed his bite was from a shark.

In hopes of getting a more definitive opinion about what cause the bites, the police department sent multiple photos of the bite wounds to researchers at the University of Florida. Those researchers could confirm that the wounds are bite marks, and they may even be able to determine what type of shark was responsible.

Like many people on the beach Friday, Kirby Shipman said he was not letting the bites keep him out of the water.

"You just think about jaws, you know, but it was probably something that was two to three feet long - nothing big," Shipman said. "Everybody probably thinks it's a 12-foot killer shark."

Tim Handsel at Ripley's Aquarium looked at a photo of the wound left on one bite victim's foot, and he agreed it looks like a shark bite.

Handsel is the Director of Husbandry at the aquarium.

"Off our coastline you're talking 30 species of shark, or more than that, that you can find typically off of our coast, but in-shore this time of year, I'd be looking for a sharpnose, sandbar, blacktip, possibly a spinner," Handsel said.

He said a sharpnose shark would be about three feet long. Sandbar and blacktip sharks would be a slender five to six feet long.

He said the sharks may have been chasing a school of fish or been attracted to bait by nearby fishermen.

"They can feel that. They can feel the struggle in the water," Handsel said. "They can certainly sense and smell the bait that's in the water, if there's any fluids coming from the bait."

So he advises swimmers to stay clear of schools of fish and fisherman, but still enjoy the water like so many people were doing Friday.

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