WASHINGTON – Delmarva beachgoers should be more concerned about dangers like surfing accidents and rip tides than sharks, even in the wake of two fatal attacks over the holiday weekend, experts said.
While there are about 40 different species of sharks cruising waters far off the Maryland coast, Capt. Butch Arbin of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said he hasn’t spotted anything larger than a foot-long sand shark near shore in 29 years on the job.
Arbin and Bill Hall, a marine education specialist at the University of Delaware, pointed to other beach risks that are far more common than shark attacks.
“It is much more likely that you will run into a jellyfish than a shark,” Hall said. He cautioned against the risks of neck, back and other injuries from surfing and body surfing.
Shark fears were heightened when a Richmond, Va., boy died after a Saturday attack off Virginia Beach and an Arlington, Va., man was killed in a Monday attack off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
But Arbin said people in Ocean City are more likely to be killed crossing the highway to get to the beach than they are to be killed once in the water by a shark. He estimated that an average of one person a day is hit crossing Ocean Highway.
He also said rip currents are the third-leading cause of weather-related death in the United States. People who are especially concerned about beach conditions should talk to the nearest lifeguard, who would know about currents – – or if there are any sharks in the water.
Hall said shark attacks north of North Carolina are extremely rare. Arbin said the sharks have not changed over the years, but that more vacationers are flocking to the beaches, and not all of them are as cautious as they should be in the water.
“There is no more of a threat today than there was 10 years ago. This year, there are actually fewer recorded shark attacks than there were one year ago,” Arbin said.
“The ocean is the home for sharks. When we go swimming in the ocean, that’s their environment,” he said.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, Maryland is the only coastal state where sharks live that has never seen an attack. But Maryland’s beaches stretch only about 10.5 miles and Hall said many shark species like warmer water temperatures than those typical of Delaware and Maryland waters.
Arbin said Ocean City lifeguards would not change beach patrol procedures following the weekend’s attacks.
“We already watch for anything in the ocean that could create a hazard. We will do what we’ve always done – be vigilant, and be prepared.,” he said. “We guard the beach seven days a week until the end of September. People are swimming in the water today.”