Shark bite season starts
The 18-year-old Ormond Beach surfer and lifeguard knew the second he felt a burning pain in his right foot he had become another statistic in what local surfers call "Shark Shallows," a 2-mile stretch of beach south of Ponce de Leon Inlet known for shark activity.
Stephen Flowers, 18, of Ormond Beach sits in his hospital bed at Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach talking to his father, Carl, as he recovers from a shark bite to his right foot on April 23, 2003.
Flowers' shark bite last Monday was the third reported within three days in Volusia County.
On April 19, an 11-year-old Sanford boy was bitten on the left foot while on his boogie board north of the Flagler Avenue beach ramp in New Smyrna Beach.
On April 20, a 23-year-old Port Orange surfer received a minor bite while surfing near Sunglow Pier in Daytona Beach Shores.
In neigh boring Brevard County, sharks bit two people that same weekend and two others the previous week, bringing to seven the total number of shark bites reported in east-central Florida so far this year.
But fish and wildlife officials don't think the trend will continue or that there is a bumper crop of sharks like Volusia County saw in 2001, when 22 bites were recorded with the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville. Eleven of those bites happened within a 10-day period.
"What we are seeing is a bite-and-release (action) and it's over quick," said Brent Winner, associate research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg. "About 90 percent of the bites are mistaken identity."
Flowers had just finished surfing a wave and rolled over in chest-deep water to get back on his surfboard when the shark struck.
"I grabbed the board to get on it, but it pulled me under," Flowers recounted Wednesday from his hospital bed at Bert Fish Medical Center, where he has undergone two surgeries to close a deep flesh wound near his ankle. "It let go, and I was able to get on the board and paddle to shore. No one was around me, so I had to walk a short distance to get help."
Earlier in the morning, Flowers said, he had seen dozens of sharks and baitfish swim by as he sat on his 6-foot Erie surfboard in the rough waters.
"As the water warms up, the baitfish come in from deeper waters to feed in the estuaries," said Winner. "If there is an abundance of baitfish in the area, there will be sharks nearby. Sharks are opportunistic feeders."
Alexia Morgan, assistant curator of the International Shark Attack File, said she believes shark encounters will slow down in the next few weeks as spring storms stop stirring up the waters and fish start to migrate differently.
Most bites occur in April and October, according to the agency which tracks shark bites around the world.
Capt. Rob Horster, with Volusia County Beach Services, said people should realize they are swimming and surfing in the wild -- the Atlantic Ocean -- which is home to sharks and fish.
"People need to understand it is the ocean and the reality is, sharks are big fish with sharp teeth and they do accidentally bite humans in the hand or foot as they investigate for food," he said. "They are not man-eaters."
And the few bites the area has seen likely won't slow beach traffic, he said.
"Easter weekend was very busy," he said. "It may scare some of the visitors, but the locals will still keep coming."
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