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Shark in petting tank bites woman

It started like any another trip to the Florida Aquarium for Julie Menke and her 13-month-old daughter, Shannon.

But that changed quickly Monday when the pair visited the 5,000-gallon shark and stingray petting tank near the aquarium's entrance.

Menke said she and her daughter had their hands in the water, hoping to pet a small approaching shark that a woman monitoring the tank said was friendly.

That's when another passing shark whipped around and bit her hand, she said.

"I yanked my hand out of the water and said, "Whoa!' " said Menke, who holds an annual pass to the aquarium. "It was bleeding."

She said workers called for first aid. Menke wiped her hand with a baby wipe, sprayed antiseptic on it and put antibiotic ointment on the small wound.

She and her daughter went home to St. Petersburg. But she said as the day went on and the bite mark became more noticeable, the incident troubled her more and more.

"If that thing had bitten my baby, I'd still be taking that place apart," Menke said. "She's tiny. Her skin is more tender than mine. She might not have been able to move away as fast as I did.

"It would have been a very bad experience for her."

Aquarium officials said the shark, at most 2 feet long, has been removed from the tank. They said similar incidents have happened on "rare occasions," but that Monday's bite was the first report of its type this year.

"It's not very common at all," said SueEllen Richardson, director of marketing and public relations. "We've never had any kind of injury that's become serious."

She said numerous signs are posted around the tank warning that the sharks and stingrays are wild and offering suggestions on how to touch them properly.

"They are wild animals. You have to be very careful," Richardson said. "You cannot just go in there and try to grab them. (Bites) are typically due to an abuse from the guest side. You get people who are a little excited."

When asked if she thought that's what happened in Monday's case, Richardson said no.

"This sounds like a very odd accident," she said.

Richardson said she hopes people will realize that most guests have only good experiences at the aquarium's hands-on exhibits, that each one is closely monitored and safe.

"Anything that's ever happened, it's been so minor," she said. "No one likes to see anyone get hurt. Of course the staff feels bad."

As for Menke, she and Shannon likely will visit again, with one exception.

"We love the aquarium," she said. "We'll probably go back, but no hands are going in that shark tank."