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06/12/2007 Jeanne Schaefer (Florida)

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06/12/2007 Jeanne Schaefer (Florida)

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Siesta Key visitor may have been bitten by shark

Woman gets 18 stitches in her right foot

SARASOTA -- A French woman apparently was bitten on the foot by a shark while she was swimming close to Turtle Beach last month.

Jeanne Schaefer was swimming only about 7 yards offshore, she told the Pelican Press in a telephone interview, when the incident occurred on June 12. Her husband, Hans, was with her at the time, she said, but the murky condition of the water prevented either of them from seeing exactly what had sunk its teeth into the area around her right ankle.

A neighbor helped Hans rush his wife first to an emergency clinic on U.S. 41. Jeanne Schaefer said. However, the staff at that facility "said it was impossible for them" to undertake treatment, she added. They referred the group to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, then called ahead to make certain the Emergency Room staff was waiting for the Schaefers and their neighbor, Jeanne said.

The wound was not bleeding profusely after the attack, Schaefer said. Still, at the hospital, a doctor put 18 stitches in her foot.

"It was not a long time between when I was bitten," she added, and when she received medical attention.

The incident occurred about 11 a.m., Schaefer said. A few other people were in the water at the time, she added, but none was close to her

J.R. Ayers, manager of lifeguard operations on Siesta Key, told the Pelican late last week that it was not uncommon for lifeguards to spot sharks in the water, "especially this time of year with the tarpon still running."

Although none of his staff had observed sharks coming close to swimmers, he said, if they do spot sharks near the designated swim areas off the Siesta Key Public Beach, they blow their horns to warn people out of the water.

Most of the time, Ayers said of the sharks, "they're just kind of passing by," heading to Big Pass, where they readily find prey.

When contacted by the Pelican, Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, said he had heard of the bite from a Mote volunteer acquainted with the Schaefers.

Although the University of Florida keeps the official International Shark Attack File, Hueter said, there is "nothing regulated or legal" regarding the reporting of shark bites or attacks. "Generally what happens is that these things get picked up in the press," then are added to the ISAF. Hueter added, "It's not an exact science, unfortunately."

Because of the size of Schaefer's wound, Hueter said, "I'm guessing it was probably a small shark," perhaps a blacktip, about 3 to 4 feet long, "that just was swimming around in the shallows" and "blundered into her."

However, he added, "That's absolute rampant speculation."

Given that Schaefer was bitten late in the morning, the Pelican asked Hueter whether shark attacks are more common near dawn and dusk, as reported regularly by the national news media.

"That's not true," Hueter responded. "Most (attacks) occur in the daytime when beaches are (more heavily) populated," he said, and more people are in the water. Hueter emphasized that "sharks are not actively hunting [people]."

Referring to the Sarasota area, Hueter said, "Serious attacks are not very common here." They are more frequent in the Tampa Bay area, he added.

"Each year around July 4, I kind of cringe a little bit," Hueter said, as more bites seem to be recorded near the holiday. He pointed out, however, that "the whole last year was very quiet."

According to the International Shark Attack File (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/isaf), which has records of confirmed, unprovoked attacks from 1882 through 2006, Sarasota County has had a total of five attacks, none fatal. Manatee County has had four, while Pinellas County has reported 10 -- two of which were fatal. To the south, Charlotte County has recorded one attack.

The Florida county with the greatest number of attacks -- 193 - is Volusia, on the East Coast, which includes Daytona Beach. Brevard, home to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, is second, with 90.

As for Schaefer: She told the Pelican Press on June 28 that she was "really improving."

She and her husband have been coming to the key since 1981, she noted, and although she is an avid swimmer, this was her first encounter with a shark.

In a second interview on July 2, Schaefer said, "As soon as it was possible, I returned to the sea."


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