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"Hit and Run" Shark Attack in South Florida

So far this year, there have been ten shark attacks in the United States, seven of which occurred in Florida, the "Shark Bite Capital of the World." Luckily, there have currently been no fatal encounters, but with sharks being sharks, it's an inevitability in South Florida waters.

One of these non-fatal encounters happened on April 12, 2022, in Palm Beach County. Three adolescent boys were standing in knee-deep waters, hanging out at the water's edge, when a four-foot shark rapidly swam up to one of the boys, bit his foot, and then just as rapidly swam off, leaving him with a "small but deep" cut underneath his big toe. It was a "Hit and Run" attack. Rescue whisked him off to Bethesda Hospital, where he had a few stitches and was released.

This relatively benign attack isn't the stuff of Hollywood movies, but it certainly is the stuff of shark hunters who are familiar with shark attacks from the bigger beasts. The larger the shark, the more damage from a "Hit and Run" attack.

"Hit and Run" is the number one attack strategy of the shark world. Of the three major types of unprovoked shark attacks, "Hit and Run" is the most common and usually occurs within the surf zone, where surfers and swimmers become their targets. Rarely does the victim see the shark but remains unaware of the attack until they feel pain. By then, the shark is already gone.

Researchers think these "Hit and Run" scenarios are due to a shark's poor eyesight coupled with a case of mistaken identity. A hungry shark in its natural habitat makes quick decisions and uses extraordinarily rapid movements to capture its prey. Combine this with the pounding surf and the almost provocative movements (from a shark's perspective) of swimmers and surfers, and you have a recipe for mistaken identity and an ensuing attack. Sharks bite; it's what they do. It's how they survive. Be close to one, give them a foot to bite, and they will. Unfortunately, every once in a while, a human loses a leg or a life because of it.

Florida has 20-30 of these "Hit and Run" shark attacks each year, but since the attacks happen quickly before the victim can get a good look at the shark, researchers aren't confident which species prefer this method of attack or if it's characteristic of all sharks. However, it's probably a sure bet that this young man will enter the water more deliberately next time and anxiously look down at his feet more than usual as he wades. Little sharks become big sharks.

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