Visiting surfer suffers shark bite near Inlet
By Mark I. Johnson
Gerald Gaskins, 34, of Grand Island, rests Wednesday at Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach after he was bitten by a shark south of Ponce de Leon Inlet.
A Leesburg surf shop owner became Volusia County's fifth shark-bite victim Wednesday when he put his foot down in the wrong place.
Gerald Gaskins, 34, jumped off his surfboard about 200 yards south of Ponce de Leon Inlet about noon and landed on a shark.
"I never saw it, but I could feel it spin around and tag me. He came down on (my left foot) three or four times in about a half-second," he said from a hospital bed at Bert Fish Medical Center where he was awaiting surgery to repair severed tendons and a cut joint on his big toe. "It was pretty intense."
There was irony in his voice as he answered a barrage of media questions. The veteran surfer said he had been surfing Web sites Tuesday and came across a list of this year's bite victims.
"I thought to myself, I hope it does not happen to me," Gaskins said.
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, said the bite comes as no surprise.
"This is the time of year sharks are going to be seen with regularity along the beach," he said by telephone from his Gainesville office. Wednesday's bite was Volusia's fifth this year, Burgess said.
Volusia County saw 22 bites in 2001 and 2002, according to statistics from Volusia's Beach Patrol.
Burgess said warm temperatures prompt shark migrations northward and people heading back to the water. When added to the "aquatic smorgasbord" characteristics of an inlet -- where lots of fish flow in and out with the tide, attracting sharks to a small, heavily populated area -- the chances of a human/ shark encounter are high, he said.
"When you surf near an inlet, you are taking a risk," Burgess said.
Gaskins agreed, calling the inlet the center of a "feeding frenzy." But he also believes the number of sharks in the area has grown in recent years. Volu sia's fourth shark victim of 2003 was Stephen Flowers. The 18-year-old surfer was bitten on the left ankle April 20 in what surfers refer to as "shark shallows," a two-mile stretch of water south of the inlet. It took two surgeries to repair the damage -- torn tendons, deep puncture wounds -- and several skin grafts.
"It seems to happen all the time (in that spot)," Flowers said Wednesday from his Ormond Beach home. "I knew they were there when I went into the water, but I figured it wouldn't happen to me."
-- Staff Writer Sandra Frederick contributed to this report.
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