Elizabeth Riggs attacked by shark off Buck Island St. Croix, US Virgin Islands while swimming this shark attack happened Saturday 08/17/2008 tag
Woman hurt by possible shark bite off Buck Island
By FIONA STOKES
Tuesday, August 19th 2008
ST. CROIX - National Park Service officials are investigating the report from a woman who said she was attacked by a shark in the waters off Buck Island during the weekend.
Park Superintendent Joel Tutein said Monday that the woman, Elizabeth Riggs, reported that she was out on a boat with a friend early Saturday evening just off Buck Island where they had been swimming and snorkeling when she was attacked.
Reached Monday night, a recuperating Riggs gave her account of what happened.
She said it was around sunset and she was still in the water, hanging off the side of the boat. She said she saw a large shadow moving toward her under the water.
"I've seen sharks before, but this was different. He certainly was not just cruising by," she said.
She said she hurried to pull herself up into the boat, but then felt the bite on her left foot from what she thinks may have been a shark.
"It felt like a little dog nip, but when I got into the boat, I saw the extent of the bite," she said. "It looked like I stepped on a land mine."
Riggs said it took a moment before what had happened registered, and she and her friend made the long sail back to Cheney Bay, where their cars were parked.
Once there, she was taken in a kayak to shore, carried to the car and transported to Luis Hospital, where she received 175 stitches to close the wounds to her foot.
"It was certainly an experience," she said.
Tutein said it has not yet been determined what caused the bite, and marine life experts working for the Park Service in Florida, have been sent a picture of the Riggs' wound to determine if the bite patterns from her attack are consistent with those of a shark.
"It could have well been a barracuda," Tutein said. "They can also cause serious injuries."
Tutein said that while shark attacks are rare in the waters around the territory, the matter is certainly under active investigation. He thinks it could take take at least until early next month before the full analysis of the photo and a conclusion on the attack will be ready.
He said his office already has began working on plans to launch an education campaign to better educate visitors to the parks on how they can best be safe in the waters, keeping all precautions in mind.
Rafe Boulon, chief of resource management for the V.I. National Park on St. John, said Monday that shark attacks in the territory are almost nonexistent. He said the only documented shark encounter in recent history was at Magens Bay more than 35 years ago. He said while there are reef sharks, nurse sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks, whale sharks and other variety of sharks in local waters, they are not very aggressive and do not attack.
Boulon said sharks are an important part of the ecosystem and are not out looking for a human to eat. He said residents need not be alarmed that sharks exist in the territory's waters.
"They are certainly safer in the water with a shark that they are on land driving a car," he said about the odds of a shark attack.
Boulon said to reduce the risk of being attacked by a shark, residents should avoid swimming in murky water where a shark may easily mistake them for food, exit the water if they have any open wounds and refrain from swimming in waters where others are spear fishing. He said sharks are attracted to blood and while in search of food, they may easily be frightened by a person and lash out defensively. People also should use caution when swimming at dusk and dawn, when sharks are more likely to be feeding.
Riggs was treated for her injuries and released. She continues to recover at home.
On Monday evening, Riggs said she grew up around the water and swims daily and is anxious to be able to go swimming again, but not at dusk.
"I realize that I'm on his territory," she said. "I'll certainly be more cautious."
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