Shark attack `very unusual,' ranger says
Biscayne National Park's chief ranger says the recent shark attack was the first he had seen since coming to the park in 1999.
A nurse shark. FILE PHOTO
BY LIANA KOZLOWSKILKOZLOWSKI@MIAMIHERALD.COM
GOOD ADVICE: Carmen Dominguez was swimming next to a fishing boat when she was attacked in the park. Don't swim next to fishing boats because sharks can get scared.
More than three weeks after a 43-year-old woman was bitten in the leg by a nurse shark at Biscayne National Park, the chief ranger is telling visitors it is safe to come back.
You just have be careful not to be in the water next to a fishing boat, he and a shark expert recommended.
The attack happened around 4 p.m. just west of Elliot Key Harbor in about four feet of ``crystal-clear-water,'' according to Chief Ranger Didier Carod.
Carmen Dominguez of Kendall was out with her husband and friends on the Fourth of July when she felt the six-foot-long shark sink its teeth into her thigh.
Her friends were fishing from a nearby boat and had hooked the shark.
It fought to escape -- and did.
The agitated creature then came after Dominguez who was swimming just a few feet away.
``It's very unusual that something like this would happen. I can honestly say that in all the years I've been here, people are in much more danger of drowning and falling off a boat than they are of a shark attacking them,'' Carod said.
He said Dominguez was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
``It's probably not a good idea to be swimming with someone fishing next to you,'' he added.
Friends took Dominguez by boat to Homestead Bayfront Park Marina where paramedics were waiting to take her to Homestead Hospital.
``I met with her on that boat. She was smiling and was in good spirits. The bite size was pretty significant, though. If that had been a two-year-old it would have been a much different situation,'' Carod said.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials said the bite was big, but missed an artery.
Dominguez could not be reached for comment.
A teenager who identified himself as her 15-year-old son said she was doing fine.
``These waters within the national park . . . there are quite a bit of sharks out here but anyone would tell you that they are a lot more afraid of us then we are of them,'' he said. ``I would assume that he bit because he was in such a state of panic.''
Neil Hammerschlag, a Ph.D. candidate and shark researcher at the University of Miami, agreed.
``[Nurse sharks] are well known to be very docile sharks. They leave people alone,'' he said. ``There are very few incidents in which nurse sharks bite [unless] they have been provoked.''
Fighting to get off the fishing line would have energized -- and scared -- the nurse shark to then bite the nearby Dominguez, he added. It also may have been trying to figure out if she was a potential danger.
``Sharks don't have hands to feel their way so they use their teeth,'' he explained.
Hammerschlag recommended that people not swim near fishing boats. He added that Dominguez was lucky.
Nurse sharks have teeth designed to eat crustaceans -- not to go after bigger fish or humans, he said.
So even though she suffered a large wound, it would have been much worse, even deadly, had it been another type of shark, such as a bull shark that does have larger teeth, Hammerschlag added.
For more information about sharks, go to Hammerschlag's website, http://www.neil4sharks.org
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