Bull shark blamed in fatal attack
By VICKIE CHACHERE
ST. PETE BEACH -- A shark fatally attacks a swimmer in a shallow bay near a beach resort gearing up for a big holiday weekend.
Unlike "Jaws,'' however, officials here are not debating whether to close beaches after Thadeus Kubinski was killed shortly after jumping off a dock in Boca Ciega Bay, a salty, sheltered inlet off the Gulf of Mexico lined with high-rise condos and expensive homes.
The beaches are staying open.
"This is an isolated incident,'' said St. Pete Beach Fire Chief Fred Golliner. "It's rare. It could be another 20 years before we have something like this again.''
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, called the chances of anyone being attacked by a shark, much less killed by one, "minuscule.''
"Folks shouldn't be terrified,'' Burgess said.
Kubinski's death was the first fatal shark attack in this area in nearly 20 years, a fact that city officials took great pains to point out as vacationers arrived for the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The death was Florida's first fatal shark attack since Nov. 21, 1998, when 9-year-old James Willie Tellasmon was killed off Vero Beach in Indian River County.
There have been five fatal attacks over the past 25 years. Twenty-two people have been attacked by sharks in Florida this year, compared to 25 during 1999.
Burgess said the shark that killed Kubinski, 69, was likely a 8- or 9-foot bull shark weighing more than 400 pounds.
The shark probably mistook the man for prey, said Burgess, who assisted on Kubinski's autopsy.
The rare attack shocked beachgoers and residents of this peaceful resort, but did not scare them out of the water.
Hotel operators said there were no cancellations because of the attack, and few guests said they intended to stay out of the water.
Kubinski suffered massive chest wounds and died almost immediately after being bitten. He jumped off a dock in his back yard into about six feet of water. His splashing likely attracted a bull shark feeding nearby, Burgess said.
The attack happened about 4 p.m., a time when sharks are actively hunting.
The waterway is murky and visibility is poor. Schools of mullet and other fish are often found there.
Kubinski's wife Anna was also swimming and told family members she heard a noise near a neighbor's dock and a minute or so later her husband began struggling with a shark.
"She saw a dorsal fin,'' said George Kubinski, the couple's son. "She couldn't describe it. She just wanted to get out of the water.''
Anna Kubinski scrambled out of the water and across the small lawn separating the house from the water to call for help. When she returned minutes later, her husband was clinging to the dock; he was dead before paramedics arrived.
A tooth recovered from Kubinski and compared to other bull sharks led Burgess to guess the shark's size.
"It underscores the fact that the sea is basically a wilderness,'' Burgess said.
Burgess said sharks often avoid humans, but can mistake them for prey. Bull sharks feed on larger animals like sea turtles and porpoise.
"My guess would be the shark simply reacted to the splash. ... Humans are not a normal food item,'' Burgess said.
Official autopsy results on Kubinski were not available Thursday afternoon and funeral arrangements for the retired businessman were still being made.
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