Spate of shark bites near inlet continues
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- The rash of small shark bites south of Ponce de Leon Inlet continued Friday as two surfers suffered minor injuries.
The pair join four victims bitten Thursday, although it's questionable whether one of those bites was from a shark. None was seriously injured, although a 22-year-old Orange City surfer bitten Thursday might have to undergo surgery to repair a partly severed tendon.
The sharks responsible for the nips are generally small, between 4 and 5 feet, said Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
"These are not the kinds of attacks that were made famous in 'Jaws,' " said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville.
"Sharks sometimes misinterpret the splashing of humans in the water as being normal prey items," Burgess said. "In most cases they realize very quickly that it's not a mullet and (let) go."
The bites are occurring as sharks swim northward along the Florida coast, he said.
"Sharks are like Yankee tourists. They come south for the winter and north for the summer," Burgess said.
According to Beach Patrol Capt. Rob Horster, 12-year-old Andrew Barron of Longwood was surfing near the 2700 block of North Atlantic Avenue about 10:50 a.m. Friday when something grabbed his right foot and ankle.
He was treated at the scene by lifeguards and then transported to Bert Fish Medical Center by ambulance. A hospital spokesman said Barron suffered an encircling wound 2 inches on top and an inch across the bottom of his foot.
The second incident occurred about 10 minutes later when Jonathan Bush, 16, Charleston, S.C., was bitten on his left foot and ankle while surfing in the same area.
He, too, was taken to Bert Fish for treatment.
"I got off my board and went into the water when something grabbed my foot, bit and then took off," he said. "I never saw it."
The teen, on spring break, said he was getting one last ride in before heading home Friday when the bite occurred.
After Bush's bite, lifeguards ordered everyone out of the water for about an hour, much to the displeasure of some surfers.
"This is stupid," said David Smith, 17, of Longwood. "If you are going to get bitten, you are going to get bitten."
Beach Patrol Capt. Dave Williams said the swimming ban was a safety measure to give the shark time to leave the area without encountering another possible victim.
Thursday, Beach Patrol officials reported four shark encounters, three near Friday's incidents and one just north of Esther Street, about two miles south of the inlet.
Beach Patrol officials responded to three of the incidents early in the day. All involved bites to the feet.
Horster said the fourth incident, which occurred shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, was reported as an Orlando man suffering a one-inch laceration to his right foot while surfing in the 2600 block of North Atlantic Avenue. However, there is some question whether that injury was caused by a shark bite, Horster said.
Richard Spence, 38, of Orlando, drove himself to Bert Fish Medical Center and was treated and released, according to hospital spokeswoman Cathy Vaughn.
With the Easter weekend starting today, Williams said large crowds are expected on Volusia County beaches, increasing the possibility of more encounters between man and shark. However, swimmers can expect more beach closures if the predatory fish are seen in the area, but that is no guarantee another bite may not occur.
"We will keep bathers out of the water when there is a problem," Williams said. "But it will be a difficult task."
He said numerous swimmers and surfers ignore lifeguard requests to leave the water after a shark incident.
Bites often happen in conditions of breaking surf and reduced visibility, Burgess said. That's when sharks are most likely to mistake the dangling feet and hands of a surfer for a fish.
Shark bites are common just south of Ponce de Leon Inlet because it is a prime site for fish spawning and schooling, Horster said.
Williams suggested swimmers and surfers might want to give that area a wide berth, considering the recent bite history, and plan on enjoying the sand and water farther south.
Shark attacks are more common in Florida waters than anywhere else in the world, with 34 unprovoked shark attacks out of 79 worldwide last year, according to the International Shark File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Volusia County accounted for 12 of the bites, the most in the state. None of the Volusia attacks were life-threatening.
One person was killed by a shark in state waters last year. An attack Aug. 30 resulted in the death of a 69-year-old man swimming off a dock in Boca Ciega Bay near St. Petersburg. That death was Florida's first fatal shark attack since Nov. 21, 1998, when a 9-year-old boy was killed off Vero Beach in Indian River County.
Including the Boca Ciega Bay death, five people have been killed by sharks in state waters over the past 25 years.
Volusia County routinely leads the state in the number of shark bites reported, with 12 last year and nine in 1999.
No fatal attacks have ever been recorded on the beaches of Volusia County, according to the Shark File. However, in August 1981 a woman was killed three miles from Ormond Beach after the catamaran she and three friends were sailing capsized late one day. She was killed by a large shark, but her three friends swam to shore safely.