Fatal Florida shark attack highlights need for safety, experts advise

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Posted by on June 27, 2005 at 01:40:52:

In Reply to: Shark attacks: Facts and odds posted by on June 27, 2005 at 01:25:47:

This weekend's shark attack off a Panhandle beach that left a swimmer dead was a rare but unfortunate encounter that spotlights the need for people to take precautions in the water, shark experts and surf enthusiasts said Sunday.

Jamie Marie Daigle, 14, was farther from shore than allowed at most public beaches when she was attacked Saturday near Destin, in an area unprotected by sandbars or lifeguards. A nearby surfer pulled her onto his board, but rescuers were unable to revive her.

She is the first person to die from a shark attack in Florida since a diver was killed while exploring a wrecked freighter off Pompano Beach in September 2001. Sharks have attacked fewer than 30 people a year in Florida's waters during the past decade, and experts argue that Daigle's death is no cause for alarm, considering more than 13 million people a year go to the state's beaches.

"This is an animal in its natural environment," said Sam Gruber, who studies sharks at the University of Miami. "This is something you can expect when there are millions of people in the water. There is very little you can do about it."

Beaches reopened in Walton County on the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday with extra lifeguards present, according to The Associated Press. Earlier in the day, residents of a condo complex near the beach where the girl was attacked spotted a shark chasing fish offshore.

Daigle, who was from Louisiana, had been swimming on a boogie board with a friend at least 100 yards from shore, the AP reported. The surfer who tried to save her said they were trailed to shore by what appeared to be a bull shark about 8 feet long.

"The beach is the beach," the AP quoted the surfer, Tim Dicus, as saying. "Once you get past that second sandbar, you're in the gulf. And when you're in the gulf, that's where big fish are."

Fewer shark attacks occurred in Florida last year than at any time since the early 1990s, something that is widely attributed to fewer people going to the beach because of a series of hurricanes that struck the state. Central Florida, with its popular surfing locations, is the site of most of the attacks.

Although hundreds of sharks were spotted off Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton in March, area lifeguards and surfers say sightings are rare. Fort Lauderdale lifeguard Chris Sears said the beach he patrols has been cleared only once or twice this year because of a shark being spotted.

"People need to be aware of what's going on around them and pay attention to the lifeguards," Sears said. "That's ultimately why we are there -- to be a second set of eyes for people."

Whether surfing or swimming, people going into the ocean are always urged to stay in groups and not to wander far from shore, particularly using caution in areas near steep dropoffs. They should go not into the water if they have an open wound and should avoid murky water, shiny jewelry and brightly colored clothing. They should refrain from excessive splashing.

Most shark attacks occur when they are chasing fish into a surf zone and become confused and bite a person instead. These cases of mistaken identity occur because of poor water visibility caused by breaking surf or murky water.

"We aren't on their food chain, so it's such a rarity that this type of thing happens," said John Hudson, owner of Pro Dive in Fort Lauderdale. "That doesn't mean it's not a tragedy."

The chance of being attacked by a shark is less than being hit by lightning, according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida.

The institute and other experts argue that shark attacks have been growing because of the increasing number of beachgoers. The world's shark population is declining.

"Coastal development is roaring along at an amazing pace," said Wyatt Porter Brown, chairman of the South Florida chapter of the surfer group Surfrider. "Sharks and people are going to cross paths once in a while. It's a clash between man and nature."

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