Florida authorities warn of shark danger after attack on 3 people

Authorities are using boats to patrol the ocean and warn swimmers of sharks this weekend along Florida’s Gulf Coast, where a woman and two teenage girls were injured in two separate shark attacks Friday .

The attacks off beaches in the Florida Panhandle led authorities to temporarily close several beaches to swimmers on Friday. Beaches were reopened on Saturday, with flags warning of high risks.

“All I can say is that these incidents are very rare,” said Demian Chapman, scientist and director of the Shark Research Center at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida.

“It’s even rarer to have two events in one day involving three people,” he told The Associated Press on Saturday. “It’s an astronomically low probability that this will happen.”

In Walton County, the sheriff’s office, fire department and state wildlife agency were working together to patrol the water with boats and the shoreline with vehicles, the Walton Fire District said Saturday. South Walton in an update. Both attacks Friday took place in Walton County.

“Please swim safely today, respect the Gulf, stay hydrated and look out for your loved ones,” firefighters said on social media.

Red and purple flags were used Saturday to warn swimmers of the dangers.

“Purple flags indicate the presence of dangerous marine life and single red flags indicate high-risk conditions,” the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post Saturday.

Small fish move in schools close to shore this time of year, which may have contributed to the attacks, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said.

The first attack occurred Friday afternoon when a woman was bitten by a shark near WaterSound Beach, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said. She suffered serious injuries to her stomach and arm, and part of her arm had to be amputated, South Walton Fire Chief Ryan Crawford said at a news briefing. She was airlifted to a trauma center.

Less than two hours later, firefighters responded to another beach about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) east of the first attack “following multiple reports of a teenager injured by a shark,” the office said of the sheriff.

Two teenage girls were in waist-deep water with a group of friends when they were attacked, the South Walton Fire District said.

“When rescuers and deputies arrived on scene, they discovered one of the females had serious injuries to her leg and hand,” the fire department said in a statement. She was airlifted to a trauma center. The other teen had what authorities described as minor injuries to one of her feet.

Both teens are from Mountain Brook, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, Mountain Brook City Manager Sam Gaston told the news site Al.com.

There is no way to know whether it was one shark or two separate sharks involved in Friday’s attacks, but there are more sharks in the Gulf of Mexico than in previous years, said Chapman.

“There has definitely been a recovery of sharks in the Gulf after many years of overfishing,” he said. “They’re kind of back out there after being a little worn out.”

The time of the attacks – mid-afternoon – was also an anomaly, Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said. Sheriff’s officers often warn people to watch out for sharks in the early morning and dusk, when they usually feed, he noted.

Walton County Sheriff’s deputies patrolling the waters in a boat on Saturday spotted a 14-foot hammerhead shark near Santa Rosa Beach, which they said is not unusual. Sheriff’s officials say they don’t know what type of shark attacked the swimmers Friday.

“We want to reiterate that sharks are still present in the Gulf,” the sheriff’s office said in a social media post Saturday. “Swimmers and beachgoers should use caution when swimming and remain aware of their surroundings.”

Also on Friday, in Hawaii, a woman was seriously injured an apparent shark attack In the waters off the island of Oahu, officials said.

Shark attacks are rare, according to experts. There were 69 unprovoked bites last year worldwide, and 10 of them were fatal, according to the University of Florida International Shark Attack File. This is more than the recent average of six deaths per year.

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