INTERACTIVE MAP: Expert says record-breaking year of shark attacks

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INTERACTIVE MAP: Expert says record-breaking year of shark attacks

A shark bit a 67-year-old man several times Wednesday in waist-deep water off North Carolina's Outer Banks, officials said, the seventh in a record-breaking year of shark attacks for the state's coastal waters.

A spokeswoman at the Greenville, North Carolina, hospital where he was taken said Wednesday night that the man, Andrew Costello, was in fair condition.

He suffered wounds to his ribcage, lower leg, hip and both hands as he tried to fight off the animal, said Justin Gibbs, the director of emergency services in Hyde County. The attack happened around noon on a beach on Ocracoke Island, right in front of a lifeguard tower, he said.

"He was pulled under by the shark," said Gibbs, who said witnesses reported the animal was about 7 feet long.

  • INTERACTIVE MAP: See where the attacks happened in the Carolinas:

 

He was swimming in waist-deep water with his adult son about 30 feet offshore, the National Park Service said in a news release. There were no other swimmers injured.

Costello was the former editor-in-chief of the Boston Herald, the newspaper reported early Thursday.

Costello's niece, Freya Solray, told the newspaper Costello's wife and sons were with him at the hospital, where he was "doing well."

Costello is the seventh person attacked along the North Carolina coast in three weeks, the most in one year in the 80 years for which the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File keeps records. The highest previous total was five attacks in 2010. Three of the 52 confirmed shark attacks between 1935 and 2014 were deadly, according to the database.

Most of this year's attacks happened in shallow water. The injuries ranged widely: An 8-year-old boy had only minor wounds to his heel and ankle, while at least two others have required amputation. Another person attacked Saturday had initially been considered at critical risk of dying.

Shark experts say the recent spate of attacks along on the coast of the Carolinas is due to so many more people getting in the water. Americans made 2.2 billion visits to beaches in 2010, up from 2 billion in 2001, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate.

The record-breaking numbers of shark bites might be related to an unseasonably hot June that rapidly raised ocean temperatures off North Carolina and prompted fish to migrate north earlier than usual, said Chuck Bangley, a shark researcher at East Carolina University.

"So when you have more marine life in general in the water and then more people heading to the beach than usual, then you've got a potential recipe for accidents to happen," Bangley said.

Roger Rulifson, a distinguished professor of biology and senior scientist at East Carolina University, said recently that there have been reports of small bait fish coming closer to shore this summer, which attracts sharks. There have also been reports of larger numbers of sea turtles along the coast, which sharks also like to eat, he said.

Patrick Thornton, 47, from Charlotte, was bitten Friday at Avon Beach off the Outer Banks.

"It took a pretty big chunk out of my right leg so I started punching the shark and then it grabbed my back and must have bit me in the back," Thornton said.

Thornton fought back, which experts suggest in an attack, but scientists are having a hard time explaining why so many attacks are happening.

"When we get a chance to look at more forensics, like more detailed oceanographic data, we might find a smoking gun, but for now we don't have it. And that said, our situation right now is we've got a problem on our hands," said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

Burgess believes a combination of several environmental factors, like warmer water, an abundance of bait fish along the coast and more people in the water, may be causing an influx of attacks. He said this is a Mother Nature issue, not one that people can fix outside of making wise choices.

"Since we've got the brains and the sharks have the teeth, it's incumbent for us to make the modifications, especially since we are entering their house," Burgess said.

To ensure complete safety, Burgess said beaches may have to be closed for a few days. He said the environment will change and this problem will disappear, but people should use caution in the meantime.

State tourism officials said they still feel comfortable encouraging people to head to the coast, as long as visitors are informed.

"I think people realize that the risk is still minimal based on the millions of people that go to the beach in North Carolina, but people just want to know how to be a little more safe when they go out," said Whit Tuttle, executive director of the Department of Commerce's Visit North Carolina. 

Lynette Holman, 44, of Boone, said she was on the beach Wednesday with her husband and 10-year-old son when she noticed a commotion about 50 yards down the beach. She saw a man walking through knee-deep water and then people rushing to help him out of the surf. There was no panic or screaming, and the nearest lifeguard on duty told her she thought the man might have been having heart trouble. Then Holman saw a gash above his knee.

"The skin was pulled away. It was an open-wound gash," said Holman, a journalism professor at Appalachian State University.

Laura Irish Hefty of New Hope, Pennsylvania, said she was about 100 yards away when she saw a crowd gathering. She said her husband, David, saw blood on both of the man's legs.

Costello was treated on the beach for about 20 minutes until he was stabilized and carried off the sand and beyond the dunes to a road, Hefty said. A helicopter flew him to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, about 85 miles away.

Swimmers were back in the water within a couple of hours, Hefty said.

"Nobody seems to be that scared," she said.

SHARK ATTACK HISTORICAL DATA: 

CLICK BELOW to see more about shark attacks in North Carolina (Source: Shark Research Institute, Inc.)

TIMELINE OF RECENT ATTACKS:

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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