Wednesday, August 22, 2001
Another shark bite pushes year's tally to record-tying 18 attacks
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- A small shark sunk its teeth into a 17-year-old surfer's foot Wednesday afternoon, marking the eighth reported bite in five days, Beach Patrol officers said.
The bite Wednesday south of Ponce de Leon Inlet marks the 18th one this year, matching a 1996 record for shark bites along Volusia County beaches in a single year. Most of the bites have been relatively minor; none has been fatal.
Because of the string of "hit and run" bites recently, Beach Patrol officers banned water activities in the surf for a half-mile stretch south of the south jetty late Wednesday afternoon and for today.
Leery from a string of bites beginning Saturday and running through the beginning of the week, Beach Patrol officers asked a sheriff's helicopter to fly over the inlet Wednesday afternoon to check for shark activity, said Beach Patrol Deputy Chief Joe Wooden.
"After seeing sharks in the inlet, we went up and down the beach making public announcements warning surfers and letting them know they were in the water at their own risk," Wooden said.
Several surfers didn't heed the warning, and less than an hour later, at 4:20 p.m., a small shark bit Lowell Lutz of Edgewater in the left foot.
Beach Patrol officers treated the small bite and released Lutz at the scene.
After lifeguards closed the half-mile small stretch of surf for water activities, most surfers either packed up for the day or moved farther south.
Keith Mitchell, 17, of Edgewater, was surfing near the Flagler Avenue beach approach and said he didn't like having the best stretch of surf closed. "But with so many sharks in the water it is pretty smart," he said.
Mitchell's twin brother, Kevin, said he has seen numerous sharks in the past while surfing and never had a problem, but agreed halting water-related activities near the inlet was probably a good idea.
Wooden said most shark bites in the county happen in the late spring or early summer. The recent string of attacks is unusually late in the season, he said.
Most bites are blamed on young or disoriented blacktip and spinner sharks that mistake people for baitfish.
"There are a lot of factors in play causing these bites," Wooden said. "We have had some unusually high surf and some cloudy water around the jetty. Both contribute to disorienting sharks."
Wooden said breakers were averaging 2 feet high on most county beaches, but just south of the inlet waves were nearing 4 feet Wednesday afternoon.
In the past five days, eight shark attacks have been reported along county beaches. In April, a similar cluster of bites happened when seven shark attacks were reported in a span of three days. Twelve bites were reported during all of last year.
Wooden said he was surprised so many surfers continue to brave the ocean despite the string of bites.
"The thing is, the surfing community knows the sharks are out there. They know they are biting. But they go into the water anyway," he said.
Shamon Burton, 22, of New Smyrna Beach, a clerk at the Quiet Flight Surf Shop on Flagler Avenue, said the closure was probably a good idea right now, but he might see things differently if the waves at the inlet were particularly nice.
"With as many bites as there have been lately, it is not worth chancing it," he said. "But if it were really, really good, that would be a whole different story."