Shark bites injure 3 in Florida on same day in ‘extremely rare’ event

After a shark bit a woman’s arm Friday along Florida’s Gulf Coast, local authorities transported her to a trauma center and closed part of the coastline to swimmers, they said .

But in what Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson Jr. later called an “extremely rare” day, it was just the first shark strike that afternoon.

Less than two hours later, two teenage girls were in waist-deep water at another Walton County beach when a shark bit them, according to the South Walton Fire District.

“This type of incident may happen today, but it may not happen for 20 or 30 years,” South Walton Fire District Chief Ryan Crawford said Friday during a ‘a press conference. The Walton County Sheriff’s Office said two shark collisions were reported in the county between 2005 and 2023.

The first shark strike occurred Friday around 1:20 p.m., when a woman, approximately 45 years old, was bitten near WaterSound Beach, according to the South Walton Fire District. Part of his left arm was later amputated due to his injuries, Crawford said.

The next shark collisions occurred around 2:55 p.m. Friday near Seacrest Beach, about four miles east of the first incident, the South Walton Fire District said. A young girl with injuries to her leg and hand was taken to a trauma center, authorities said. The other girl suffered a minor foot injury and was taken to the hospital, authorities said.

“These people were seriously injured, their lives were put in danger and their lives were turned upside down,” Adkinson said at the news conference.

Gavin Naylor, director of the shark research program at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the Washington Post that the presence of menhaden fish likely led to the strikes.

The sharks chased and ate the small fish as dozens of them swam close to shore Friday, Naylor said, and some swimmers enjoying the water were in their path.

“It’s only when sharks feed in waters where people are … that there is any risk of this happening,” Naylor said.

Although experts say films such as “Jaws” present sharks as antagonists, they rarely attack humans. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, there were 69 unprovoked shark bites and 22 provoked shark bites worldwide last year. Data showed that between 1990 and 2006, more people died from falling into a hole on the beach than from colliding with a shark.

However, several shark strikes have already taken place in the same areas. At least four shark bites were reported near Long Island over two days last summer. Shark sightings have increased in recent years – a trend that scientists attribute to conservation efforts.

David Vaughan, director of beach safety for the South Walton Fire District, told CNN on Saturday that the same shark could have bitten all three people. But Naylor said Friday’s strikes likely came from two different bull sharks common in the area.

He said one of the most unusual aspects of Friday’s strikes was that they occurred in the afternoon. Most shark bites are reported in the morning or evening, when their prey are most active, Naylor said.

“Nine times out of ten, fish jump out of the water, sharks follow them and there are kids in the water,” Naylor said, “and the sharks ignore them.”

Sharks may also accidentally hit people out of confusion or curiosity, wondering what’s going on when they see a person moving in the water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On Saturday, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said its marine unit saw a 14-foot hammerhead shark near Santa Rosa Beach while surveying the area, but that the sighting was not unusual. Hammerhead sharks are generally not aggressive toward humans, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

County officials temporarily closed beaches to the public after the three strikes. When beaches reopened Saturday, authorities said they hung red and purple flags, which warn visitors of high risks and dangerous marine life. The next day, they said, they reduced the risks.

Naylor said beachgoers are generally safe from sharks, but could encounter one if small fish are near the shore.

“When I see a whole group of small fish jumping out of the water near the shore, that means something is chasing them and it’s bigger than them,” Naylor said. “And it could be a shark.” So I say [people], ‘Hey, come on in a moment. Let’s wait half an hour until the fish stop jumping. “

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