Shark, not a fish, bit Jet-ski rider off Alabama beach; 'the sight of blood was ridiculous'
A Jet-Ski rider on Tuesday, June 21, 2011, was bitten by a bull shark after falling off his personal watercraft into the Gulf of Mexico near the Flora-Bama Lounge at Perdido Key. (Press-Register/Mike Kittrell)
ORANGE BEACH, Alabama -- Ashley McConnell said it was horrifying to watch blood well up in the water around her brother, Tyler, who was attacked by a shark almost immediately after falling off a rented personal watercraft Tuesday in Orange Beach.
“Basically, he hit something, whether it was a wave or the shark itself, it knocked him off, and it happened immediately,” Ashley said Wednesday, describing the attack, which she and her mother both witnessed.
“He was bleeding profusely. I rushed over to him, and my mom rushed over to him. He was swimming toward the Jet-ski with his arms and miraculously hopped back on while his foot was severed.”
Orange Beach officials on Tuesday described the attack as a barracuda bite. By Wednesday morning, officials said Baptist Hospital at Pensacola told them that McConnell had been bitten by a shark.
Ashley McConnell credited people on the beach, including tourists and Orange Beach rescue personnel, with saving her 20-year-old brother’s life. The McConnell family, from Shreveport, La., was vacationing there.
“The sight of blood was ridiculous, but he managed to drive himself back to the beach. The next thing I know, we’re on the beach and he’s laying down under an umbrella,” she recounted. “An ex-military person was there and applied pressure to the major artery in his leg, and elevated his foot. We put a shirt around the wound. I put my swimsuit cover around it. That’s how we kept him from bleeding out.”
She said her brother made jokes while waiting for the helicopter that life-flighted him to the hospital and asked her to make sure she got a good picture of the wound. He was in surgery for three hours, she said, and by late Wednesday was resting comfortably and expected to make a full recovery.
Melvin Shepard, aquatic coordinator for Orange Beach, was present when McConnell was being treated Tuesday and gave television interviews suggesting a barracuda attack rather than a shark bite. Shepard said Wednesday that his comments were based on what the Orange Beach first responders relayed to him at the scene.
Ashley McConnell said that “all of the rescue people said it was a shark.”
“It looked like a big old bull shark bite,” said Brooks Moore with Wahoo Watersports, the company that rented McConnell the personal watercraft. Moore said that he saw the wound when Tyler McConnell came out of the water.
Shepard said McConnell remained conscious after the attack but was showing signs of shock on the beach, including low blood pressure and elevated heart rate. “He’d lost a good bit of blood,” Shepard said.
City Administrator Ken Grimes said officials with Orange Beach reported Tuesday what they knew about the attack and have not tried to divert attention that could frighten tourists.
“The reality is that when you go in the Gulf there exists a danger of anything biting anyone,“ he said. “There’s probably a whole lot more predator type of fish than there are sharks."
'It's not a cover-up' city official says
He added that attacks are rare, and said that officials still could not be certain that a shark bit McConnell.
“I would rather go with what we know: He was attacked by something that appears to be a predator type of fish. ... It’s not a cover-up. It’s purely that we don’t have enough information about this,“ Grimes said. “I just don’t want people to think we’re lying to them, because we’re absolutely not.“
Shepard said that there is little the city could do to prevent the type of incident seen Tuesday.
“There’s not a lot we can do differently. What we typically do, if we have a shark sighting, we’ll fly the double red flag and close that beach until the shark is gone,” Shepard said. “We don’t have flags in (the area where the attack occurred) because it is private property and the Flora-Bama doesn’t fly flags.”
Shepard said that sharks are a constant presence in the Gulf of Mexico, though most of them pose little or no danger to people.
Karon Aplin, a biologist with Alabama Marine Resources, said that the state has made 4 flyovers along the Gulf of Mexico beaches this month — including one Wednesday — and spotted no shark activity.
McDonnell could have been bitten by a number of different kinds of fish, she said.
“It’s hard to pin a finger on one species that would do that, unless the person saw and could identify the fish,“ Aplin said. “There are a lot of toothy critters out in the gulf. ... Without having a particular fish in hand you can’t necessarily identify a culprit.”
Bull sharks have been blamed for 3 non-fatal attacks on people in Alabama waters since 2000.
http://blog.al.com/live/2011/06/shark_n ... ski_r.html