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Pawleys Island: Sharks near beach startle visitors

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Kate Bomer and her five-year-old son, Oliver, were on the north end of Pawleys Island last week when, she said, a shark swam up to them.

It was a frightening experience she doesn’t expect to forget.

“We were walking in the shallow water, looking for shells and I saw it. It was just like in those movies, how they show the fin above the water,” she said.

“It went right up next to my boy, then turned around and went back out in the water. If he’d reached out his hand, he could have touched it.”

The Bomers go to that area of the beach all the time, but Kate said she’s never seen a shark before.

The sighting happened on July 15, at around 7 p.m. Kate, of Belle Isle, said it was only minutes after they stumbled upon a baby shark, barely a foot long, washed up on the sand. It was still alive, so they helped it back into the water.

Her son was just ahead of her when she spotted the second shark, which she estimates was 4 to 5 feet long, and she knew she couldn’t reach Oliver before the shark did.

Luckily, it swam by without doing any harm, but for Kate, those were some of the longest moments of her life.

“I saw it all in slow motion,” she said. “It was probably only a few seconds, but when you’re standing there looking, it takes forever.”

Oliver didn’t see the shark until the danger had passed. He was standing very still looking down at the sand, focusing on the net he was using to sift sand in his search for shells.

Kate is grateful. She doesn’t want to think about what might have happened had he been splashing and playing, or had he spotted the shark earlier and done something that might have drawn its attention.

“When he realized, he ran out of the water screaming, ‘Mommy, Mommy, put me on your shoulders, pick me up,’ ” Bomer said.

When Bomer got home, however, she did start to think about it.

The possibilities of what might have happened started to haunt her, she said. And she worried about the effect the experience might have had on Oliver.

But after the initial fright, he seem to handle it well and hasn’t had any nightmares, she said.

Though other people were on the beach and in the water, farther out than the Bomers, no one else saw the shark.

“The way the sun was, people floating, even if they looked that way, [they] couldn’t have seen much anyway and others were looking in the wrong direction,” she said.

Kate speculated the larger shark might have been the baby’s mother, looking for its young, but Dan Abel of Coastal Carolina University’s marine science department said that’s extremely unlikely.

Sharks receive no parental care, he said, and in fact, sharks will often eat their young.

It’s more likely the larger shark was feeding, Abel said, and may have been looking to make a meal of the younger shark.

Kate said the close encounter won’t affect her and Oliver’s activities. They’ll still go to the beach and play in the surf, she said.

“It’s kind of scary right now, but I’ll keep my eyes on him and stay close,” she said. “I guess this was our great adventure.”

Kate doesn’t want to frighten beachgoers, but said she believes they need to be reminded of the potential danger sharks pose, especially in the evenings and early mornings.

Dawn and dusk are the most active feeding times for sharks and, while sharks don’t usually bite humans, they do occasionally mistake a human for food.

A Litchfield man, Tom Fox, was bitten by a shark last summer in front of Litchfield by the Sea. He was running on the beach at around 6 a.m., then went in the water to cool off.

His encounter with the toothy predator left him with a softball-sized bite on his leg and eight stitches.

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