Florida Authorities on High Alert After Shark Attacks

Authorities are using boats to monitor the area and warn swimmers of shark presence this weekend along the west coast of Florida, where a woman and two teenagers were injured in two separate shark attacks on Friday. The attacks off the beaches of Florida’s Panhandle led authorities to temporarily close several beaches to swimmers on Friday. The beaches were reopened on Saturday, with flags warning of high risks.

In Walton County, the sheriff’s office, firefighters, and the state wildlife agency worked together to conduct patrols on the water with boats and the shore with vehicles, South Walton Fire District said in an update on Saturday. The two attacks on Friday took place in Walton County.

“Please swim cautiously today, respect the Gulf, stay hydrated, and watch out for your loved ones,” firefighters said on social media. Purple and red flags were used on Saturday to warn swimmers of dangers.

“Purple flags indicate the presence of dangerous marine life, and red flags indicate high-risk conditions,” the Bay County Sheriff’s Office explained in a social media post on Saturday. Small fish are moving in schools near the shore at this time of year, which may have contributed to the attacks, the sheriff’s office said.

The first attack occurred on Friday afternoon when a woman was bitten by a shark near WaterSound Beach, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said. She suffered serious injuries to her abdomen and arm, and part of her arm had to be amputated, South Walton Fire District Chief Ryan Crawford said at a press conference. She was airlifted to a trauma center. Less than two hours later, firefighters responded to another beach about 4 miles east of the first attack “following multiple reports of a teenager injured by a shark,” the sheriff’s office said.

Two teenagers were in the water up to their waists with a group of friends when they were attacked, South Walton Fire District said. “When rescuers and officers arrived on the scene, they found one of the women had serious injuries to her leg and hand,” firefighters said in a statement. She was airlifted to a trauma center. The other teenager had what authorities described as minor injuries to one of her feet. The two teens are from Mountain Brook, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, according to Mountain Brook City Manager Sam Gaston.

“It’s very unusual for two of these incidents to occur on the same day,” Crawford said. The timing of the attacks – in the middle of the afternoon – was also an anomaly, Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said. He noted that officers often warn people to beware of sharks early in the morning and at dusk, the usual feeding time.

On Saturday, Walton County officers patrolling the waters on a boat spotted a 13-foot hammerhead shark near Santa Rosa Beach, which they said is not unusual. “We want to reiterate that sharks are always present in the Gulf,” the sheriff’s office warned in a social media post on Saturday. Swimmers and beachgoers should be cautious when swimming and remain aware of their surroundings.

Also on Friday, in Hawaii, a woman was seriously injured in an apparent shark attack in the waters off the island of Oahu, authorities said. Shark attacks are rare, according to experts. Last year, there were 69 unprovoked shark bites worldwide, and 10 of them were fatal, according to the International Shark Attack File database at the University of Florida. This is higher than the recent average of six deaths per year.