Lifeguards Patrick O'Keefe and Jeremy Powell at Ocracoke's Lifeguard Beach
Lifeguards Patrick O’Keefe and Jeremy Powell at Ocracoke’s Lifeguard Beach. Photo by P. Vankevich

By Peter Vankevich

Andrew Costello, 67, of Wareham, Mass., who was injured Wednesday in a shark attack here, was upgraded today (Friday) to good condition, according Dr. Eric Toschlong, chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at Vidant Medical Center, Greenville.

“Mr. Costello received a major, but non-lethal shark bite to his thigh on July 1,” Toschlong said in a press statement. “While his injuries will require multiple additional operations, as of July 2, he has been upgraded to good condition. As a Level I trauma center, Vidant Medical Center has the expertise and facility to treat severe injuries such as Mr. Costello’s, and we are optimistic that he will make a full recovery.”

Costello, a former editor of the Boston Herald, released the following statement” “I’m recovering after a frightening and painful shark attack that occurred on July 1. I feel very fortunate to have survived thanks to the incredible assistance I received from medical personnel on the beach, both those on duty and vacation. I am receiving the best care at Vidant Medical Center, where I was airlifted. “I want to thank everyone–from the Ocracoke National Park Service lifeguards to the EMTs and hospital medical staff for their professionalism and excellent care. At this time, I’m focused on my recovery and will not be doing media interviews. Thank you for your concern and respecting my privacy during this time.”

On the island, several of the lodging establishments received calls asking if it was safe to go into the water, but there were few cancellations. “People should realize that there are plenty of great activities to do on Ocracoke if one is uncomfortable with going into the water,” said Jack Whitehead, general manager of Ocracoke Island Realty.

Ella Belch at the Pony Island Motel also reiterated to callers that there is a lot to do on Ocracoke this time of the year.

Bill Gilbert, owner of the Anchorage Inn and Marina, said after the shark incident, they had received many calls from visitors asking if they could use the inn’s outdoor swimming pool.

“Unfortunately, for insurance purposes, the pool is restricted to guests-only of the Anchorage Inn,” he said.

Bob Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop which hosts a surf camp, got several inquiries about whether it was safe. “It’s shark environment,” he said about the ocean.

“We see sharks from time to time. Most of the time it’s not an aggressive kind of event. Sometimes, we just get out of the water for a while or cancel for the day.  We just tell  our clients they are out there and sometimes someone will be bit.

Choppy waters may contribute to people not going into the water two days after a  shark attack. Photo by P. Vankevich
Choppy waters may contribute to people not going into the water two days after a shark attack. Photo by P. Vankevich

“We’ve had some anxious people call and want to change activates from a surf session to some other activity where they  are not directly in the water. “The conditions in the surf this morning were a little rough so we just canceled the surf lesson, rather than have some anxious kids out there. They should want to have fun.”

Chestnut noted that rip currents are a greater danger than sharks. “I’m more concerned with people’s  knowledge of rip currents because we will have some fatalities,” he said.

“The beach should be a fun place to be.” Ocracoke beaches remain open, though fewer people ventured very deeply into the water in the last few days.

Harleigh Owsley, 13 of Rittman, Ohio went to the beach several hours after the attack. “It shocked me,” she said about the recent shark attack. “I was kind of nervous about going in and only went in about knee-deep and close to shore.” Her friend, Vivien Starcher, 14, of Creston, Ohio, said, “I was a little skeptic about going into the water, and only went knee-deep. We’re still a little shocked by it.”

Donald Phillips and Carol Thompson.
Donald Phillips and Carol Thompson. “We’ll cautiously have fun in the water.” Photo by P. Vankevich

Carol Thompson and Donald Phillips from Harrisonburg, PA who have been visiting Ocracoke for years acknowledged the shark attack had an impact on them, but knew that sharks are out there. They intend to go into the water, but not very deep.  “We’re going to cautiously have fun,” Carol said.

Patrick O’Keefe, one of the lifeguards on Ocracoke noted that fewer people were venturing into the choppy water since the shark attack.

“People are not going out as deep,” he said and also added that rip currents in his opinion are the biggest threat on the Outer Banks.

Woody Billlings, the co-director and chief judge of the Ocracoke Invitational Fishing Tournament, couldn’t recall so many shark attacks in the region, and noted that this is one of most bizarre things he can remember.

“There are a lot of sharks out there,” he said. “I remember driving down the beach in April and  I thought there were some strange-looking dolphins and realized they were  three sharks close in. This (recent) attack happened in the middle of the day when it is supposed to be safe. I think it was just a chance encounter.”

There have been several theories as to why there have been so many attacks this season. Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman,  professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University and known as “Dr. Beach,” weighed in on the phenomena.

“This is really unprecedented in terms of the number of attacks in NC.,” he said in an email.  “It could be that an eddy from the Gulf Stream has moved close to shore as these eddies often contain a lot of bait fish, which would attract sharks from offshore.  Of course, the hot weather and warm water means that there are more people in the water.”

He added, “the shark attacks are all about food–fish and turtles; we are not food because we do not taste that good–not enough fat in our body.  There must be abundant food close to shore where the people are bathing because the bites are the result of mistaken identity or sometimes feeding frenzy.”

Leatherman has been naming the top ten beaches in America since 1991 and rated the lifeguard section of Ocracoke number 1 in 2006.

NPS Superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore David Hallac was on vacation camping with his wife Robin and four children at the NPS campground when the incident occurred. Hallac, who has a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries biology from the University of Vermont, was skeptical of the many theories that have been postulated as to why so many attacks are occurring.

“Let’s do some real research first before we jump to conclusions,” he said.

Haley Willis, a student at Clemson University who is working this summer at the Sweet Tooth and Fig Tree Deli, said several people  ventured into the store after the attack and a few who saw Costello on the beach  were visibly shaken up. “They were concerned about going back into the water,” she said.

Lifeguard Beach on Ocracoke . Photo by P. Vankevich
Lifeguard Beach on Ocracoke . Photo by P. Vankevich
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