What Do Shark Bites and Lightning Strikes Have in Common?

by Carolyn Sotka

Riley Harris_1_edited

Photo courtesy of Jason Harris. 

Bizarrely, a ten-year-old boy from Charleston, SC intimately knows the connection – because he experienced both within a span of weeks. In August, Riley Harris went out for one last boogie board at a popular surfing spot on Folly Beach. In less than 18 inches of water, Riley stepped on something and quickly realized it wasn’t sand…but a shark, likely a sand shark.

After being bitten several times, he frantically swam to shore and was attended by a friend who happened to be a nurse and soon thereafter by EMTs. As the EMTs worked to stop the bleeding, his little sister started to cry but Riley’s soothed her by saying, “Don’t cry it’s going to be ok.”

This wasn’t Riley’s first frightful encounter with mother nature. Earlier in the summer, lightning struck right above his bedroom, blowing a hole in the roof and frying all the family electronics. Thanks divine provenance or sheer, dumb luck, he chose to sleep in a different room that night.


A lightning bolt strikes in the vicinity of Riley’s house. Photo by Chris Dixon.

The chances of being bitten by a shark in the U.S. are one in almost 12 million. The chances of being struck by lightning in the U.S. are one in 500,000. The combined odds are tough to wrap your head around – something on the order of one in a trillion.

When asked how long he would stay out of the water, Riley’s first reaction was “forever” but on second thought he said, “I am not going back in, for at least like, six years.”

He does plan to head back to the beach though, to use his new rod and reel so he can try to catch the shark.

Riley Harris 2_edited

Photo courtesy of Jason Harris. 

Already a cool kid who has gone on tour to see the band Phish with his dad Jason – Riley’s street cred shot through the roof as he hobbled into school on crutches, with his new nickname “Shark Boy” in tow. Let’s all hope that ‘things come in 3’s” rule completes a trifecta with a strike of good luck – maybe a four leaf clover or a winning lottery ticket. The statistics are behind him.

Here’s Riley’s post-bite interview:

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For some crazy statistics about shark bites vs. lightning strikes, here’s a great piece by National Geographic.

 And if you really want to see Riley’s bite:

Warning graphic image ahead…

Riley Harris 3_edited

Photo courtesy of Jason Harris. 

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