STUART — The specter of shark attacks—rare as they may be—has risen again in South Florida as a 3-year-old girl was bitten at Bathtub Reef Beach on Sunday.
According to reports, the girl was bitten on the leg. The Martin County Sheriff’s office confirmed that the girl was flown to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach for treatment.
As uncommon as shark attacks may be, they tend to be more common in Florida, which led the country with 32 attacks (out of 81 nationally) in 2016 and 30 attacks in 2015.
In the wake of this latest incident (taking place shortly after 1:00 p.m.), Bathtub Reef Beach was closed for the remainder of the day.
As recently as last month, Miami-Dade County experienced an attack, with a swimmer at the nude beach receiving a bite to the leg. A month before that, a surfer suffered a shark bite just off Singer Island in Palm Beach County.
The culprit of Sunday’s Bathtub Reef Beach attack was a 4-5 foot long bull shark, about half-sized for its species. Together with the tiger shark and the infamous great white (of “Jaws” renown), the bull shark is considered among the most dangerous of the shark family, and is known to be highly aggressive.
Even in those cases where bull sharks can’t be confirmed, they tend to be prime suspects. A kiteboarder killed off Stuart in 2010 is reckoned to have run afoul of a bull shark, as was a woman in an inner tube in Fort Lauderdale in 2014 and a diver spearfishing in Riviera Beach who survived a bite to the leg in 2016.
The International Shark Attack File offers counsel to swimmers on its website to help avoid peril from sharks. Among the more salient pieces of advice:
· Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
· Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
· Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
· Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
The site also warns about the acute senses of sharks, and cautions swimmers not to enter the water if bleeding in any way and not to wear bright colors with lots of contrast, or else risk detection.
Without question, exposure to sharks is best left to watching Discovery’s “Shark Week” on TV.