for National Geographic News
Two shark attacks in three days off the Florida Panhandle have left one teen dead and a second seriously injured. The tragedies spotlight the real, though rare, danger of shark attacks.
Yesterday a shark nearly severed the leg of 16-year-old Craig A. Hutto of Lebanon, Tennessee, as he and two companions fished in chest-deep water 60 feet (18 meters) off Cape San Blas.
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Hutto was airlifted to a hospital in Panama City, where doctors amputated his severely damaged leg. Hutto remains in critical but stable condition and is expected to recover.
"There's a good chance that the fact that they were fishing played a role," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, Florida. "It's speculative at this point, but they might have had a bucket of bait in the water or even caught fish on them."
Yesterday's attack followed the death on Saturday of Jamie Marie Daigle. The 14-year-old from Gonzales, Louisiana, was fatally bitten by a shark as she boogie-boarded with a friend near Miramar Beach.
Daigle "was [reportedly] well offshore in a sandbar area where sharks are known to prowl," said Burgess, who believes a bull shark was the likely culprit. "Baitfish were sighted in the area as well. So two contributing factors were isolation and baitfish activity."
Scientists collect such clues to further their understanding of why sharks occasionally attack.
"We're not trying to point fingers at people or suggest that they did something wrong," Burgess said. "These are just important contributing factors, because shark attacks happen for a reason."
The two shark attacks occurred some 80 miles (130 kilometers) apart.
Attacks Rare But Rising
Shark attack numbers have risen over recent decades. The reason is not more aggressive animals but booming human populations and increased coastal recreation.
"It's sad, but it's natural that the more people get into the water, the more chances there are for these things to happen," said Ramón Bonfil, a shark researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
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