911 Call: Sarasota (FL) Shark Bite Victim was ‘Bleeding to Death’

911 Call Center
Photo/National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Laura Finaldi

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.


Dec. 17—The victim of a Tuesday morning shark bite has been identified as a 39-year-old man whose arm and hand were bitten while he was swimming off of Siesta Key.

A female caller told a 911 operator that the victim was swimming off Siesta Key when he was bitten. He walked home afterward, but bled profusely in the house after he got back.

The caller told the dispatcher that the victim was alert but “bleeding to death.” The dispatcher explained to the caller and another person present how to stop the bleeding until paramedics arrived.

The female caller said the victim appeared pale as they waited about 10 minutes for help, according to the call, which was placed at 8:24 a.m.

Sarasota County Fire Assistant Chief Carson Sanders said the medic was dispatched at 8:27 a.m. from 5.2 miles away and was on scene at 8:35 a.m.

“When the medic unit arrived on scene, they called for a rescue unit (ambulance). Rescue 13 (Siesta Key) was dispatched and arrived within 4 minutes,” Sanders said.

The victim was then taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The hospital confirmed to the Herald-Tribune on Tuesday that the patient was being treated for a shark bite, but hospital spokeswoman Kim Savage declined to provide further details Wednesday, citing patient privacy laws.

While such events are definitely scary, data show that being bitten by a shark on Siesta Key is a very rare occurrence.

Sarasota County has had just seven unprovoked shark attacks in the past 138 years, according to the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File, and Manatee County has had four.

Florida’s highest concentration of shark bites has been along the east coast, specifically Volusia County, which has had 312 in the past 138 years. But generally, those incidents are minor, Tyler Bowling, program manager of the International Shark Attack File, said.

Along the east coast, there’s a large population of blacktip sharks that migrates to Florida from the Carolinas every fall, Bowling said. Blacktips are about six feet in length. They stay close to shore to avoid larger predators, like hammerheads, and do their hunting in the surf zone. In fact, sometimes you can even see little fins popping out of the water at sunrise and sunset, Bowling said.

“Oftentimes, a shark goes after what they think is a fish, and it happens to be human’s foot. That accounts for the vast majority of what we see on the east coast — minor hit and runs,” he said. “Most of the surfer guys know they’re there. I’ve talked to multiple people who have gotten bit and said they continued to surf. At most you get several stitches, but no one is dying from a blacktip, or having anything debilitating.”

The Gulf Coast is a bit different, however. The sharks most likely to attack are bull sharks, aggressive apex predators that are generally eight to 10 feet long.

Bull shark bites are rare, Bowling said, but the injuries can be debilitating.

“When they bite swimmers, it’s case of mistaken identity or them being territorial. You may not even be aware of the shark’s presence. It’s not a predation event, but it’s trying to drive you away. We see repeated bites,” he said.

It is unclear what type of shark bit the Siesta Key man Tuesday.

Shark bites across the world have been trending downward in recent years, likely because of education, Bowling said.

“In California, where there are large white sharks, they’ve developed programs about getting medical aid to victims quickly, with medical kits, helicopters and public awareness programs,” he said. “A lot of this is about public education.”

(c)2020 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

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