Something fishy, probably a shark, chews manÂ’s hand at South Beach
October 17, 2000
A 69-year-old Vero Beach man was bitten by what appeared to be a shark while swimming during the weekend at South Beach.
If the bite was from a shark, it would bring to 32 the total number of shark bites in Florida coastal waters - seven more shark bites than those recorded in 1999.
The good news is that most sharks travel farther out to sea after October, resulting in fewer sharks near the shore where swimmers are found, said George H. Burgess, director of the International Shark File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Norman Payne of Vero Beach said he had to have stitches in his right hand to close the wounds suffered during the bite Saturday afternoon. But, he said, he suffered no broken bones or damage to tendons.
Payne said he did not see what bit him because of murky waters, but he feels it was a shark or barracuda. Sharks are prevalent just offshore in Florida waters because of the large number of small fish congregated close to shore.
Payne said he was swimming about 100 to 150 yards offshore when he was bitten at about 3:30 p.m. He was about 200 to 300 yards north of the lifeguard station at South Beach, he said.
"I took a stroke, and the fish hit and let go immediately," he said. "It happened so quickly, I didnÂ’t see anything."
After making it to shore, on-duty lifeguards wrapped PayneÂ’s hand to stop the bleeding until a medical crew arrived.
Payne said he drove himself to Sebastian River Medical Center where he received stitches to close the wounds.
"It tore (two middle fingers) up pretty good," he said.
This was the first time, Payne said, that he has been bitten while swimming offshore during the past three or four years. He usually swims two to three times a week.
Payne is undecided about whether he will continue swimming after his wounds heal, he said.
"IÂ’m going to have to take that under consideration," he said.
This year has been a record year for shark bites in Florida, Burgess said.
But most of those shark bites have not resulted in serious injuries, Burgess said.
The bites occur because the sharks mistake the humans for fish, he said.
No one knows why shark bites are up this year, he said, but the rising numbers could be attributed to more people out in the water coupled with an increasing number of small fish.
Net bans in Florida a few years ago on catching mullet are rapidly replenishing the bait fish, Burgess said.
State limits on shark catches because of overfishing over the past 15 to 20 years also might be increasing the number of sharks in Florida waters.
With murky coastal waters this time of year, bites like those suffered by Payne - where the person could not identify what made the bite - are common, Burgess said.
"By and large, most of the bites weÂ’re seeing are done by sharks," he said.
Most of the small fish will leave the offshore waters for deeper water by early November, taking most of the sharks with them, Burgess said.
Normally, the number of shark bites are down during the winter months due to fewer sharks and fewer swimmers in the ocean, he said.
Florida has had one fatal shark attack this year. In August, a St. Petersburg Beach man died after an apparent shark attack on the Intracoastal Waterway at Boca Ciega Bay, just east of St. Petersburg. Thadeus Kubinski, 69, suffered wounds from his armpit to his thigh after he jumped into the water from a dock behind his home.
The last most recent fatal shark attack in Florida waters was in Vero Beach in 1998. James Willie Tellasmon, 9, was attacked in shallow surf north of Jaycee Beach Park.
Eight fatalities have been reported worldwide this year, compared with four in 1999.