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Florida: 3 injured in 2 separate shark attacks

June 8, 2024
Photo: Walton County Sheriff’s Office via CNN Newsource

(CNN) — Three people were injured in two shark attacks within just 90 minutes of each other Friday at neighbouring beaches in Walton County, Florida, authorities say.

The attacks happened about four miles apart and left two people in critical condition and a third in stable condition, South Walton Fire District Fire Chief Ryan Crawford said in a joint news conference Friday. Two people remained in the hospital in a stable condition on Saturday.

Just after 1:15 p.m. on Friday, authorities responded to a report of a woman being injured by a shark in the water near Watersound Way and Coopersmith Lane, according to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

A 45-year-old woman was “reportedly swimming just past the first sandbar with her husband” near WaterSound Beach, Crawford said in the news conference.

The woman suffered significant trauma to the midsection and pelvic area and her left lower arm was amputated, according to Crawford. She was airlifted to a local trauma facility for treatment.

The second attack took place at the Sandy Shores Court area of Seacrest Beach at approximately 2:55 p.m., four miles east of the first incident. Two girls approximately 15 to 17 years old were in waist deep water with a group of friends just inside the first sandbar when the incident occurred, according to the fire district.

One of the teenagers had significant injuries to the upper leg and one hand, and the other had minor injuries on one foot, according to the fire district.

On Saturday, Beach Safety Director for the South Walton Fire District David Vaughn told CNN that the person who suffered minor injuries had been discharged from hospital.

The other two attack victims remained hospitalised in stable condition, he said.

Vaughn added that officials do not know for sure if the same shark was behind the separate attacks or what species was involved.

“It would make more sense that with the nature and severity of the injuries, that it was the same large shark,” Vaughn noted.

Following the incidents, beach flags were changed to double red Friday to indicate the water was closed for swimming.

“Double red flags are now flying on the beaches in the surrounding area. The Gulf is now closed to the public in Walton County in the localised area of the incident,” the sheriff’s office said in its post at the time. “We are encouraging beachgoers to be cognisant that lifeguards and beach deputies may be trying to keep people out of the water in the immediate area.”

The father of a 17-year-old girl who witnessed the teenagers being attacked from her hotel balcony said his daughter was distraught.

“She felt helpless that she couldn’t help,” Brian Erbesfield said of his daughter Hanna.

Video provided by the family shows a shark in breakers metres offshore as beachgoers gather at the water’s edge.

“Oh my God, Oh my God … They need to get out,” a voice said.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said during Friday’s news conference that authorities are speaking with experts to see if there is “something anomalous.”

“We don’t think there is, but we certainly want to be diligent,” he said. “We know we share the water with sharks, we understand that as tragic as this is, there are always sharks.”

The last two shark incidents in the area were reported in 2021 and 2005, according to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

During the most recent attack, in June 2021, a 14-year-old boy survived after being bitten in the chest area while swimming near a fishing line 40 yards from the shore in Grayton State Park. Another attack was fatal – in June 2005, a 14-year-old girl from Louisiana was on a boogie board 250 yards from shore when she was pulled under by the shark and bitten in the legs.

While the risk of being bitten by a shark is extremely low, Florida tops global charts for the number of shark bites, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s annual shark attack report.

In 2023, Florida had 16 unprovoked shark bite incidents reported, which represents 44% of the United States total and 23% worldwide. Volusia County had the most shark bites, and the others were reported in Brevard, St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Escambia and Pinellas counties. There were no fatalities reported last year in the state as a result of the attacks.

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