Sharkbite Reflections

If you somehow missed all the media coverage this week, a 13 year old boy from Odessa was bitten by a shark last Monday. He and his brother were swimming around 37th street and noticed fish swimming all around them. One fish even hit him which caused them to start towards shore. When they were in about chest deep the boy was bit on the back of the leg near the ankle. He reached down and was bit again on the hand.

We believe this shark was feeding on mullet and bit the boy by accident. These bites are very different than a shark attack, where the person is the intended prey.

You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning or killed by a dog bite than being bitten by a shark. In the past 25 years we’ve responded to or received reports of 9 or so shark bites on the island. No doubt there are others, especially incidents with fishermen, but the number is very small. With around 6 million tourists visiting the island a year, the math works out pretty good… for the swimmers. If we assume 5 million people swim a year in the beach, there have been 125 million swimmers in Galveston’s water that would give us a 1 in just under 14 million chance of getting bit when we swim.

I’m sure that number wouldn’t make this young man feel better, but sounds like his bites could have been way worse. It also helped him that his brother reportedly beat back the shark and applied pressure with a towel until Beach Patrol and EMS responded- and that the response times were both under a minute from receiving the 911 call.

Aside from avoiding swimming in river mouths or in areas where bays and estuaries meet the ocean, there are a number of precautions you can take to reduce your chances of an unpleasant encounter with a shark while swimming in Galveston:

1. Avoid Swimming in the middle of schooling fish- Sharks eat fish and could grab a hand or leg by accident. Even though the most likely scenario is for them to release and go for easier prey, that one bite could do some damage. This is the typical scenario I’ve seen in the handful of shark bites I’ve worked through the years.

2. Shuffle your feet- When you drag your feet in a sort of “ice skating motion” you send out vibrations. Small sharks, stingray, fish, etc will try to get away from you. If you don’t step on them they won’t try to fight back.

3. Don’t swim while bleeding- Sharks are extremely sensitive to the smell of blood and can detect a very small amount.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the young man as he, hopefully, works towards a full recovery. We are also thankful to work and play at a beach that has so few of these types of incidents compared to others around the country and around the world.