Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Local teen OK after shark bite

Enquirer news services

        AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Tim Flanigan was lucky. A week after an 8-year-old Florida boy lost his arm in a shark attack, the 18-year-old recent LaSalle High grad was bitten on the foot Sunday.

Tim Flanigan arrives at a Jacksonville hospital.
(First Coast News photo)
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        Flanigan's injuries were not severe. He was treated in the emergency room Sunday night at Shands Jacksonville hospital and released.

        Flanigan said he was bitten by a 3-foot shark while laying on a boogie board in waist-deep water off this Atlantic Coast island, 38 miles north of Jacksonville.

        "He felt something roll next to him," said Nassau County Fire/Rescue Capt. John Hailey. "The shark splashed in the water as it went by."

        His father, Mark Flanigan, told First Coast News: "The bite was on the top of his foot."

        Deaths from shark encounters are rare. But despite the decline in shark populations, there has been a steady rise in the number of nonfatal attacks reported in Florida and elsewhere. Some reasons:

        • Even though shark populations have declined, the number of people living on the coastline has boomed.

        • Reporting of attacks has become more efficient.

        • Water activities have jumped in popularity.

        “We need to remember how many people are in the water, and how much time they spend there,” said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

        Shark experts say there has been no significant spike in the number of attacks this year: 16 so far in Florida, or fewer than half the total 34 attacks in 2000 in the state. There have been no fatalities this year; last year, one man was killed.

        Despite the danger, a few diving outfits on the East Coast offer people the chance to feed sharks or even swim with them. Experts say the dives play no role in attacks. But state marine officials are weighing guidelines for shark dives, concerned that, like bears in natural parks, feeding the creatures could change their behavior.

        Robert Hueter, a shark expert at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., suspects overfishing of more docile species of sharks is linked to the increase of more aggressive species closer to shore.

        Despite the low odds of attack, a shark mauling can spark near-primal fear — especially when it's as horrible as the attack that left 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast near death July 6.

        Though headlines about shark attacks can have a chilling effect, anxiety is generally not long-lived. Even at Gulf Islands National Seashore, which draws 5 million visitors a year, swimmers returned to the water after Jessie's attack.

        There are ways to cut down on the chance of an attack. Shark experts advise against swimming at dawn or dusk, when the animals normally feed.

        Like bears in Montana or cougars in California, sharks are a fact of life in Florida. A day after Jessie was attacked, park rangers flew over Gulf Islands seashore and spotted more than 20 sharks — a typical number.

        “It's a natural environment, not a swimming pool,” said J.R. Tomasovic, the park's chief ranger.

        The Jacksonville Times-Union contributed to the report.

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