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Pinellas shark bites are rare, despite man's Clearwater Beach incident

CLEARWATER BEACH — The morning after an Orlando man said he was bitten by a shark near Pier 60, people returned to the turquoise water, dipping children into the surf, gliding on boogie boards or standing waist-deep as waves wooshed around them.

"Same old, same old," said lifeguard Cameron Moeller.

Mostly.

Bruno and Lucy Frucci of Long Island waded warily a few yards offshore. "It makes you wonder," Lucy Frucci said. "I told my husband not to get too far away. It's better to be safe. We stay very close to shore."

While some beachgoers were skeptical of his story, Dana Joseph was adamant about what happened to him about 8:30 p.m. Monday as he waded in chest-deep water.

Joseph, 39, said he was about 100 yards offshore with his teenage son when he felt a tug on his right foot. "I get the tug and I panicked, really," he said Tuesday. "I yelled, 'aaaaaah!' My son, we play so much in the water, he thought I was kidding. I hold my leg up and blood is dripping down it."

With no lifeguards on duty, Joseph swam ashore and told others to get out of the water. Paramedics treated his ankle injury and his children's mom drove him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. He realized the extent of his injuries on the way, he said.

"The pain was intense," he said. "At the time it happened, it was not so bad. I had a few Long Island iced teas in me and was doing all right, but by the time we got to the hospital, the pain was a 9 out of 10."

Joseph received 11 stitches to his toes, had "three to four" large cuts on top of his foot and a row of puncture marks on the bottom.

Only 11 unprovoked shark attacks have occurred in Pinellas County waters since 1882, according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida. Two were fatal, most recently on Aug. 30, 2000, when a bull shark killed a man during his daily swim in Boca Ciega Bay. Pinellas County's dense population, seasonal tourist influx and plentiful beach access increase the likelihood of attacks, said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

"One would expect unless there are changes in demographics or economy — in a serious way — there would be more incidents in the future, just based on odds," he said.

Burgess said the time of day and Joseph's proximity to a fishing pier heightened his risk. He called what happened to Joseph a "shark grab, a hit-and-run, which is pretty typical of what we see in Florida."

The shark is likely smaller than the 5 to 8 feet Joseph described because swimmers tend to over-estimate when they are "under siege," Burgess said.

Florida is the most active area in the world for shark bites, according to the 2008 ISAF report, with Volusia County registering 22 of the state's 32 encounters. Three swimmers reported being bitten two weeks ago.

Florida shark attacks

Confirmed 'unprovoked' shark attacks in Florida — the world's most active area — since 1882, according to the International Shark Attack File, a University of Florida-based group that collects data on such encounters

Pinellas shark bites are rare, despite man's Clearwater Beach incident 05/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 4:18pm]
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