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Surfer bitten by shark at Jacksonville's Hanna Park

Expert says it could have been 5-6 foot blacktip shark

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A surfer was bitten by a shark Monday morning at Hanna Park, a city of Jacksonville park near Naval Station Mayport, according to 911SurfReport.com

Photos obtained from the website, operated by Eddie Pitts, show puncture wounds to the surfer's leg and foot, so he may have been bitten twice.

The surfer told Pitts he was surfing the big waves generated by Hurricane Maria in the morning.  The website quoted him as saying he was sitting on his board on the outside break waiting for a wave when a shark clamped onto his lower leg and foot.

News4Jax was told the surfer was taken to a hospital in a personal car and he received 20 stitches to close the wound.

The person who shot video of the wound estimated the shark to be at least 5 feet long.

On Tuesday, News4Jax showed the images to local shark expert Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, an associate professor of biology at the University of North Florida. Gelsleichter said he can't officially confirm it was a shark bite, but based on what he can tell, it certainly looks like one. 

"The chances that it could be a smaller species, smaller in general, but still possibly 5 to 6 feet like the blacktip shark is certainly a possibility," he said. 

With lower temperatures right around the corner, News4Jax asked Gelsleichter about the shark population in our area this time of year.

"A lot of those species start to make their way down to south-southeast Florida, where they'll spend the rest of the winter," Gelsleichter said. "So, technically speaking, this is a time when there is a lot of transit, so to speak, for sharks."

He said that does not necessarily mean more sharks along the coast, but possibly more movement. Surfer Anthony Sinatro said he's seen them at Hanna Park many times before.

"Something about here, it's a better break and, for some reason, it attracts sharks too. But it's all right, you've got to dodge them," he said.

Sinatro came out Tuesday to catch some waves even after hearing about what happened Monday. He said he understands, with sharks, it's the risk surfers and swimmers taken when going into the ocean. 

"You just try to put it in the back of your head and know it happens," Sinatro said. 

News4Jax asked Gelsleichter if recent strong rip currents can bring more sharks close to beaches. He said there hasn’t been a study on that correlation, but that typically sharks want to minimize the amount of current that they're fighting. 

There were not any flags posted at Hanna Park on Tuesday, but Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue said it'll post the purple flag when it feels the public could be at risk because of an increase in marine animals that bite or sting. As for a shark bite, Ocean Rescue said, it's a case-by-case basis, but it always errs on the side of caution. 

According to WJXT's records, this was the third shark attack of the year along the area's coastline and the first since April. There were seven bites each during the last two years.

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.