A 16-year-old Delmar boy was treated at Beebe Healthcare after he told officials he was bitten by a shark while swimming in the ocean June 9 at Cape Henlopen State Park.
Beaches at Cape Henlopen State Park were initially closed Tuesday, June 10, but reopened at 1 p.m. after Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials flew over the shoreline in a helicopter and saw no shark activity, said Michael Globetti, DNREC spokesman.
DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara considers the shark bite an isolated incident, Globetti said.
Judging by the shark bite, DNREC Marine Biologist Scott Newlin said he believes it came from a 3-foot long juvenile sand bar shark – a common shark off the Delaware coast.
"A larger shark would've pulled him down and taken a lot more flesh with it," he said.
Newlin said he doubts the shark attacked the boy; it may have been going after a fish and the boy's arm got in the way.
Evening is typical feeding time for sharks, and the boy's 5 p.m. swim was prime time for dinner, Newlin said.
"I don't think there is much concern for the public now," he said. "But it's best to steer clear of the water especially after dark."
About four dozen beachgoers were set up along the beach at the end of the pavillion walkway at about 11 a.m. A red no-swimming flag warned beachgoers to stay out of the water.
Vacationer Scott Zitzer of Luray, Va., surveyed the beach before descending on the sand with his family. Looking over the calm ocean, he said he was not very concerned about sharks along the Delaware coast.
"I don't think there will be a problem," he said.
Lewes resident Ellen Dodd was finishing her morning walk along the beach, and also won't let the shark scare keep her out of the water.
"I think if it got hot, I'd go back in the water," she said.
Dewey Beach Patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman said this was the first time in his 34 years as a lifeguard on Delaware's beaches that he's heard of a significant biting event. He said there have been minor instances, but nothing this profound.
Sharks are out there all the time, he said. This area is their reproductive grounds, and sharks are predatory fish that follow bait fish into the shallows, he said.
Fritchman said Dewey Beach is open. News of the shark bite has not changed the way the patrol approaches marine activity.
“We're always highly active with our watch,” he said. “We're always on our A game.”
Dewey Beach has an extensive protocol to follow in the case of marine activity, said Fritchman. If there is marine activity in the surf zone, a buffer zone is immediately set up.
Fritchman said a contributing factor could be an increase in surf fishing along the state's beaches. He said fishermen using chum could be bringing sharks into shallower waters and closer to humans.
The boy told DNREC Parks Enforcement he was swimming in about 5 feet of water about 5 p.m., when he felt something grab his left arm. The teen then used his right arm to flail at what he described as a shark in order to get it to release its bite before it swam away. The boy sustained gashes on his left forearm.
Rich King, an avid fisherman who runs the popular Delaware Surf Fishing website, disagrees with the idea that surf fishing is bringing sharks closer to humans.
“People fishing from the beach are not attracting sharks,” he said. “You've got a better chance of being run over by a cow than you do being bitten by a shark.”
King said he tells people all the time that it's a whole different food chain in knee-deep water.
“If people could see what is in the water and see what is really going on, it would blow their mind,” he said. “Especially the fishermen who aren't catching anything.”
King said he has seen a photo that's been posted on the internet that reports to show the young man's injuries, and he said by the looks of it, the shark was probably something small.
“This is not a Jaws situation,” he said. “If it were a big sand shark, it could have taken his arm off.”
King said the temperature of local ocean waters were slow to rise this year, and that seems to have played a part in a migration of sharks that's heavier than normal. He said he was fishing this weekend off the beach and saw all kinds of people pulling up little sand sharks.
“Sharks line our oceans. The Delaware Bay is a nursery for tiger sharks,” he said.
Lifeguards on duty treated his cuts, and Lewes Fire Department transported the teenager to Beebe by ambulance for further medical attention.