A 23-year-old woman who was bitten Sunday by a small nurse shark in Florida waters had to be transported to a nearby hospital with the shark still attached to her arm, according to local news reports.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the 2-foot shark latched onto the woman’s forearm and refused to release her – even as it was dying.
“The shark wouldn’t give up,” Boca Raton resident Shlomo Jacob, who witnessed the scene, told the newspaper. “It was barely breathing but it wasn’t letting go of her arm, like it was stuck to her or something.”
Witnesses said the woman emerged from the water in Boca Raton with the shark hanging from her arm; a man supported it as paramedics made their way to the scene, according to news reports.
By the time they arrived, a bystander may have killed the small shark, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Ocean Rescue Capt. Clint Tracy told the Sun-Sentinel that medical personnel used a splint board to hold the woman’s arm and the shark was put on the stretcher with her to take her to the hospital.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Tracy told the newspaper. “Never even heard of anything like this.”
The woman was listed in stable condition.
On Sunday afternoon, a Boca Raton Regional Hospital operator told the Associated Press that the woman had been treated and was about to be released.
Tracy, the Ocean Rescue captain, told the Sun-Sentinel that some swimmers had been antagonizing the small shark, though he did not know whether the woman played a part in it.
An 11-year-old told the paper that people had been “messing with it” – holding the shark up by its tail.
Nurse sharks – known as easy-going creatures – are considered the “couch potatoes” of the shark world, according to the National Park Service.
The creatures are recognized by their small size – they typically measure about 1 foot in length when they are born and can grow to 7 to 7.5 feet – and their razor-sharp teeth, according to the National Park Service:
Knowingly or not, people swim near nurse sharks every day without incident. Attacks on humans are rare but not unknown, and a clamping bite typically results from a diver or fisherman antagonizing the shark with hook, spear, net, or hand. The bite reflex is such that it may be some minutes before a quietly re-immersed nurse shark will relax and release its tormenter. The small teeth seldom penetrate deeply but are razor sharp. Holding still reduces damage to both shark and man. Leaving sharks alone is the best tactic.
There were 98 unprovoked shark attacks around the world in 2015, which topped the previous record of 88 attacks in 2000, according to the International Shark Attack File. More than half of the attacks last year occurred in the United States, and most of those attacks took place around Florida, The Washington Post reported earlier this year.
Last year, three out of 10 shark attacks worldwide took place in Florida. Florida saw 30 bites last year, which was higher than the year before (23) but still shy of the record set in the state (37 attacks in 2000).
Jim Abernathy, a local shark expert who gives dive tours along the coast, told ABC affiliate WPBF that he believes the nurse shark was fighting back when it bit the woman Sunday.
“I’m 99 percent sure that the person grabbed on its tail, and because the shark is only that big, it turned around and bit her right on the arm,” he told the news station, adding: “The sad thing about all of this is the shark was minding its own business, got taken to a hospital [and] will be killed because someone pulled its tail.”