1. Archive

Scientist doubts shark who bit boy was just hungry

A marine scientist said Saturday he doesn't think the shark that bit off an 8-year-old boy's arm attacked the youngster just because it was hungry.

"Something most likely was in the water at the same time . . . normally food, chum or bait fish," Erich Ritter, a senior scientist for the Global Shark Attack File, part of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Ritter believes Jessie Arbogast was in very murky water at dusk and that the youngster probably surprised the 7-foot, 200-pound bull shark.

"There was no way you could've seen the shark and there was no way the shark could see the boy," Ritter said.

Jessie was attacked at the Gulf Islands National Seashore on July 6, losing his right arm and suffering a deep wound to his right leg. He lost nearly all his blood, which caused damage to his organs, including his kidneys. Surgeons reattached his arm and he was scheduled for a skin graft on his leg on Monday.

He remained in a light coma and in critical condition at Sacred Heart Children's Hospital, doctors said.

"We are hopeful for a very good recovery," Dr. Ben Renfroe said Friday. "We are very excited about the progress he has made so far."

Ritter said he was confident he'll soon know what caused the shark to attack Jessie, by piecing together witness accounts of the attack, studying the scene and talking to the boy's doctors.

"The shark wound tells the story," said Ritter, who has spent 10 years studying sharks. "How hard the animal bites gives us a good idea about intention."

Ritter wants to interview Jessie's uncle, Vance Flosenzier of Mobile, Ala., the man who wrestled the shark out of the water.

"He's the only person who can tell me how the shark behaved right after the bite," he said.

"If the animal moves around, he's searching, meaning the boy was just in his pattern. But if the animal was lethargic, that tells you basically he just happened to grab the boy's arm; the animal was confused."

Ritter wants to learn what happened to lessen the risk of similar attacks.

"Once we narrow it down . . . then we've won the battle because then we know what has to be done," Ritter said. "If we cannot nail it down to an external factor . . . then we have a problem."