ST. PETE BEACH — A large bull shark patrolling a murky area where bait fish congregate was responsible for the attack on a woman swimming in a canal behind her house on July 22, says one of the world's leading shark researchers.
George Burgess, director of the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File, said 19-year-old Jenna James was the victim of "an investigatory bite," in which the shark attacked to determine what she was.
Burgess drew those conclusions after visiting with James and viewing her wounds.
The shark was 8 to 9 feet long and 200 to 300 pounds, Burgess estimated.
James suffered multiple bites on her right thigh and calf, Burgess said, but is doing "surprisingly well." She is walking and showing little indication that she was attacked by one of the most aggressive predators in local waters.
From interviews and an inspection of the wounds, Burgess surmised that the shark swam into the brackish, murky waters of the canal from nearby Boca Ciega Bay, and was attracted by James and her older sister, Laura, treading water.
James was fortunate that the worst puncture wounds were away from major arteries or nerves, he said. She was helped onto a float by her sister and pulled onto their backyard dock.
"She's a very fortunate girl," Burgess said. "Very lucky her sister was there to help."
The James family has declined to comment.
Shark attacks are rare in the Tampa Bay area.
This was the 13th unprovoked shark attack in Pinellas County since 1882, according to the Shark Attack File, but the second since May.