Shark attacks man swimming with dolphins
August 1, 1999
By MARIKA LYNCH Herald Staff Writer
Michael Knowles came to the Keys to hunt lobster. He'll return home to Tampa with quite a fish tale, and the wounds to back his story.
The avid diver says a seven-foot bull shark bit him near the Middle Keys Monday evening, as he tried to swim along with a pod of dolphins.
Knowles, 43, in the Keys for the lobster mini-season, which begins today, told the U.S. Coast Guard he was cruising on a friend's 23-foot motor boat about 2 miles off Key Colony Beach when he spotted the dolphins, said Coast Guard Master Chief Robert McVey.
As soon as he jumped in to join them, Knowles saw a bull shark and tried to ward it off by kicking its head. At the same time he says another shark chomped his other leg, leaving five one-inch cuts just above his ankle.
Doctors sewed up the gashes Monday night at Fishermen's Hospital, where Knowles was resting in good condition Tuesday, said Susan Poland, hospital spokeswoman. Knowles declined interviews.
Said Poland: ``He can't wait to get out there and dive again.''
If he tries to dive with wild dolphins, however, he may be breaking the law. The Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act bans ``harassing'' dolphins, which means pursuing or annoying them to the point that it hurts them or changes their behavior, said Trev or Spradlin, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Services. Violators face a $20,000 fine. Spradlin says swimmers should stay at least 50 feet away from dolphins and use binoculars to get a closer look.
Knowles won't be charged for Monday's incident, because the Coast Guard can't document any harassment, McVey said.
His wounds match the description of those caused by a shark, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Sharks often hang around with pods of dolphins, both looking for fish to eat in the early evening hours.
Knowles was bitten about 6:25 p.m.
If it indeed was a shark attack, it would be Florida's sixth this year, the 11th in the world, Burgess said.
He says the last unprovoked attack in Monroe County was off Key West in 1993, when a snorkeler was bit by a lemon shark.
Last year, a 16-year-old Illinois boy was bitten by a nurse shark off Marathon after he grabbed the shark's tail. The unrelenting shark wouldn't let go of the boy's chest, and stayed attached until the boy reached the hospital where doctors cut the animal's spine to kill it.
Burgess doesn't count that incident in his statistics, he said, because it was a provoked attack. The child taunted the animal. He puts that one in a different file, he said: ``S for Stupid.''