Shark Attacks 10-Year-Old Girl in North Carolina

Cassidy Cartwright bitten by a shark in shallow water at N.C. beach.

ByABC News
July 1, 2011, 11:46 AM

July 1, 2011 -- A 10-year-old girl was attacked by a shark while wading in 3.5 feet of water at a North Carolina beach.

Cassidy Cartwright of Erie, Pa., was playing with her body board last Sunday at North Topsail Beach when a shark dragged her underwater.

"It pulled me down, and it hurt," Cartwright told ABC News affiliate, WWAY. "I just thought it was somebody messing around, and I found out that it wasn't 'cause it pulled me down again."

Cartwright's mother, Carolyn, who rescued her daughter with the help of a friend, described the scene as "bloody."

"Together we got her out, but when we pulled out of the water her leg was wide open and it was just... a lot of blood," Carolyn told WWAY.

Cartwright was airlifted to UNC Children's Hospital in Chapel Hill where she is recovering from the attack.

"At that point I guess we assumed it was a shark bite, but it wasn't until we got to UNC that they had found a shark tooth in her leg," Carolyn said.

The shark bite broke Cartwright's Achilles tendon and further damaged her lower leg.

Shallow Water Shark Attacks

The attack was a copycat of last summer's shallow-water shark attack at Topsail Beach on 13-year-old Carley Schlentz.

Schlentz was bitten twice by a shark last June while swimming in four feet of water off of Topsail Island, requiring 60 stiches on her left ankle.

"It's not uncommon for sharks to swim in shallow water," said marine biologist and Discovery Channel shark adviser, Andy Dehart.

Dehart has spotted sharks in the mangroves of Florida and in the Bahamas in waters as low as a foot and a half.

"What surprises a lot of people is that they're much closer to sharks than they realize on a daily basis at the beach," Dehart said. "Most sharks swim by people completely unnoticed. "

According to the biologist, the murky water around the North Carolina shore is often to blame for unprovoked shark attacks in this area.

"The shark sees a flash of pale skin which has a high contrast in the dark, murky waters and often times that can confuse sharks a little bit. They bite down thinking they are biting a fish but it's a person."

Sharks have attacked 41 people in North Carolina in the last 75 years.

Last summer, nearly a dozen great white sharks were spotted off the shore of Cape Cod in just one week, causing beach evacuations and shut downs along the Northeast.

Precautionary Measures Against Attacks

Dehart said that movies such as "Jaws" have inflated the threat of what are otherwise timid creatures who "have no interest in biting people." He recommended that swimmers avoid the ocean at shark feedings hours, primarily dusk and dawn, and remain watchful for bait fish, which attract the predators.

According to WWAY, Carolyn Cartwrtight is glad her daughter survived the shark attack during their vacation in N.C., but she does not think that the response from authorities at North Topsail Beach was sufficient as fellow beach-goers were not informed about the attack afterward.

North Topsail Beach Town Manager Steve Foster was not immediately available for comment to, but he told the affiliate, "I think we responded appropriately in this situation."

With beach goers prepping for July 4 celebrations, Cartwrtight reminds them that the danger of a shark attack is real.

"It can happen," she said. "[You need] to be aware of the situation, the risk that you are putting your child into. Just be educated."