Experts at the International Shark Attack File have confirmed a 10-year-old Kentucky boy was the third person bitten by a shark on Hilton Head Island since June.
Johnny Simatacolos said he didn’t know what was happening when he felt a sharp pain from the bottom of his foot while swimming on a Sea Pines Beach around 3 p.m July 28 — the last day of his island vacation. He was swimming in waist deep water, not far from shore, around beach marker 47.
“I thought something bit me or I stepped on something like a crab,” the fourth grader from Prospect, Ken., said. “I was screaming, a little. It was bleeding badly.”
Johnny’s parents treated his abrasions, assuming he just stepped on something, and bandaged his foot, according to dad Jim Simatacolos. He said there weren’t lifeguards in the area at the time.
“A friend later told us that a shark was spotted at the same beach after we left, but we didn’t think anything of it at the time,” he said.
After a doctor back home said he wasn’t sure what caused the abrasions, Johnny’s parents searched Google to find an answer.
“We noticed the parallel cuts on his foot looked like other shark bites, but we weren’t sure how to confirm it,” Jim said.
The incident occurred on the same day The Island Packet published an investigative story about about how there are no requirements for reporting shark attacks in South Carolina and how some incidents go unreported.
Jim then reached out to experts at the International Shark Attack File, a long-running database of shark attacks at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
George Burgess, the leading researcher at the ISAF, and his team confirmed the bite last week when Jim submitted photos of his son’s injuries.
This year, there have been five confirmed shark bites in South Carolina. Three of those happened on Hilton Head, according to ISAF records. 2015 was the only other year on record when Beaufort County has seen more than two attacks.
“This is nothing out of the ordinary,” Lindsay French, a researcher at the ISAF, said of the three Hilton Head attacks. “On average, we see about three to four shark bites each year in the state of South Carolina, but (we’ve) have seen as many as 8 in one year (2015). In comparison, we see about 25 shark bites on average just in the state of Florida each year.”
Here are this summer’s other Hilton Head incidents:
▪ On June 18, 14-year-old Reagan Readnour, of Lewis Center, Ohio, was pulled off a boogie board and bitten on the leg in two places by a shark in shallow waters off Burkes Beach.
▪ Three days later, on June 21, 16-year-old Olivia Wallhauser, of Jasper, Ind., was bitten by a shark while swimming off South Forest Beach, in shallow water, six miles south of where Readnour was attacked.
All three attacks resulted in abrasions and non-life threatening injuries, indicating the likely culprits were smaller sharks, according to the ISAF. All three victims were children.
French told the Simatacolos family researchers were unable to identify the species of shark based on the injuries. “Two of the most likely culprits, based on different features of the attack, including locality and shark behavior — what we call a “Hit and Run” type of bite — could be a blacktip shark or an Atlantic sharpnose shark.”
Burgess said the other two shark bites were likely made by blacktip and spinner sharks, which are smaller and have weaker bites. Those species account for the vast majority of South Carolina attacks.
“I would imagine they are 90 percent of the bites,” he said.
Johnny and his parents were surprised experts were able to confirm the attack, based on his relatively minor injuries.
“The majority of the shark attacks that we see are minor incidents similar to this and results of what we call “Hit and Run” attacks. These bites typically occur in the surf zone and usually result in a single bite, where the victim seldom sees the shark,” French said.
Burgess told the family that Johnny’s bite was “the perfect shark bite – little injury, a lifetime of braggin’ rights.”