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Shark encounters not uncommon in waters around Boca Ciega Bay

ST. PETE BEACH — Shark encounters apparently are not uncommon in the canal off Boca Ciega Bay where a 19-year-old was bitten by a suspected bull shark on Wednesday.

Herbert Donat, who lives a few doors down, said sharks have "bumped'' him.

"I've been working on my boat and dropped tools and been hunting around for stuff and gotten bumped,'' Donat said. "I've seen them come back and look at me. Usually, they don't bother me, though."

His neighbor Jenna James was not so lucky: She was bitten below her right knee while swimming near her family's dock at 7015 Boca Ciega Drive. Her injuries were serious but not life- threatening, rescuers said. Her family asked Bayfront Medical Center not to release information about her condition.

Hers would be the 13th shark attack in Pinellas County waters since 1882 and the second within two months, according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida.

Dana Joseph, a vacationer from Orlando, was bitten on the foot while swimming at dusk off Clearwater Beach on May 25. There was some skepticism about whether it was a shark that attacked Joseph, but researchers who examined photos of his injuries have confirmed they were shark bites.

Wednesday's attack happened less than 3 miles from the last known fatal shark attack in the Tampa Bay area.

George Burgess, director of the Shark Attack File, said the most likely culprit in her attack was a bull shark because of its propensity to hit larger prey and its tolerance for brackish water. Researchers hope to examine photos of James' injuries to confirm that it was indeed a shark attack and what kind.

Dr. Robert Hueter, director of the Center of Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, was struck by the proximity of Wednesday's attack to the fatal attack of Thadeus Kubinski, 69, on Aug. 30, 2000. His death was blamed on a 400-pound bull shark.

Sharks might be getting into the canals in that area at Pass-a-Grille "and getting somewhat trapped and staying longer and maybe having trouble finding food,'' Hueter said.

Burgess warned against a "shark scare in Boca Ciega Bay."

"When you have two attacks in the same general area in 10 years,'' Burgess said, "the phenomenon is a very uncommon one and ... maybe something in that area is attractive to bringing humans and sharks together at some level."

Burgess and Hueter are interested in the conditions preceding Wednesday's attack. Kubinksi jumped off his dock near a school of bait fish. James was swimming near her dock.

In the Kubinski case, the shark was likely "hanging with the mullet and working on dinner," Burgess said. "He jumped in and the attack occurred almost simultaneously. Mullet is a good likely candidate for being involved again."

The latest attack appeared to have little effect on beachgoers, who parasailed, basked and netted small fish Thursday just a few miles away.

While swimming in the murky waters of the canals off Boca Ciega Bay is not uncommon, some of James' neighbors consider it unwise.

"I would never do that. You don't know what's in there," said Connie Blankenship, who lives on nearby 72nd Avenue. "If I can't see through it, I'm not going in."

Carole Jackson of Atlanta, who was vacationing three homes from the James residence, was surprised to see someone lying on a raft in the canal on Monday.

"I thought that was strange," she said. "We'll stick to the pool.".

Shark encounters not uncommon in waters around Boca Ciega Bay 07/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 6:10pm]
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