2 boys bitten by sharks Sunday in North Florida

12-year-old suffers leg bite; 16-year-old will need surgery to repair wrist tendons

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - A 12-year-old boy was bitten on the leg by a shark Sunday in Fernandina Beach, and a 16-year-old boy was chomped on the hand in Vilano Beach, according to police.

The 12-year-old, Josh Bitner Jr., who was visiting from Georgia, said he was going back into the water to show his mother a large seashell he found when he felt something grab his leg and spin him around when he was about waist deep. He said he was about 10 feet from his family.

"Then I felt something grab my leg again, so I pulled the shark out of the water by its fin and punched it," Bitner said.

He said he reacted on instinct and didn't feel any pain at first.

"If something's turning me around and hurting me, I'm going to punch it," Bitner said.

He said he screamed "shark," but his family didn't realize what was happening and no one on the shore could hear him, so he tried to drag himself to shore with his hands and his one good leg.

"I pushed myself out of the water until people saw that I was split open and they lifted me up and took me out of the water," Bitner said.

The bite happened around 12:30 p.m. near Beach Access No. 9 at Jasmine Street in Fernandina Beach, police said. Bitner was taken to UF Health for treatment because the shark tore into his leg at the knee on both sides.

He said he's not sure how many stitches he needed, but in addition to the shark bite, he's also recovering from having broken the foot on the same leg Saturday. He said he chipped a bone playing football and was at the ocean hoping to get in some swimming before doctors put a cast on the foot. He only had a splint on the foot Sunday.

Bitner said they think the shark that bit him was a 4-foot lemon shark.

"I'm 4-foot-9," he said. "It was a little bit smaller than me."

Bitner said he knows shark bites are rare and he doesn't have much to worry about if he goes back in the water. But just in case, he'll bring extra protection.

"I collect knives and weapons, so if I do go back in the water, I will have a knife on me," he said.

Bitner told reporters that he wants to be an author and plans to write a story about his shark-bite experience.

Filippo Schiavo of St. Augustine also has a shark bite story to share. The 16-year-old was released from the hospital Monday but will need surgery to repair tendon damage after a shark ripped into his right wrist, his mother told News4Jax.

According to a police report, Schiavo said he didn't see the shark while he was swimming Sunday morning at Vilano Beach but noticed a school of bait fish near him before he was attacked. He said he was in waist deep water when he went under and then felt a large tug on his right arm.

"I thought I hit something so I pulled my arm back. I thought it was caught on a rock, because I was at the jetties on the rocks," Schiavo said. "When I came up from the back of the wave and I looked at the back of my hand, I saw this big gash beside my wrist, and I immediately knew it was a shark."

He said based on the bite pattern, his whole hand was in the shark's mouth.

"I think when he first latched on, he didn't know what he was biting into," Schiavo said. "He was just looking for his food."

He said that, like Bitner, he was only in waist deep water and he was surprised to see a shark so close to shore.

"For me, I learned my lesson. I'm not going to go out there in the morning," Schiavo said. "I'm not going to do early morning or at dusk time, and I'm not going to go out without a friend."

News4Jax also confirmed that a man was bitten by a shark Friday night at Big Talbot Island State Park. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue said the man was bitten in the leg and was taken to Baptist Nassau. His condition was not released.

Those three shark bites bring the total for North Florida waters this year to six, including four in the last four days. A University of North Florida student was bitten Thursday while surfing off Jacksonville Beach, and in August, a 10-year-old girl was bitten off Jacksonville Beach.

Further south, a teenager was bitten by a shark Sunday in the New Smyrna Beach Jetty.

Volusia County Beach safety officials said a 14-year-old was floating on a surfboard when a shark bit his left leg.

The teen's bite was approximately 4 inches in diameter, officials said. He was not seriously injured.

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