Experts describe New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, Florida, as the shark attack capital of the world, and it lived up to that reputation this weekend when three people were bitten by sharks over two days.
On Saturday, 20-year-old surfer Emily Comfort was bitten on her left hand and wrist, according to Volusia County Beach Safety. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Half an hour later, officials said, 21-year-old surfer Riley Petrovich had to be treated for a shark bite to his right foot; he refused transport to the hospital.
A lot of baitfish gather in the area beyond the pier at New Smyrna Beach, and sharks follow them, according to Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Naylor says that the best surfing breaks are also found at this part of the beach.
“If you like to surf and you surf in this particular spot, the chances are high that you have been within 10 feet of a shark,” Naylor wrote in an email. “The surfers all know this. They routinely report seeing sharks in the area. While it may be news to the non-surfing community, it is widely known to scientists and surfers.”
Less than 24 hours after the first two bites, 51-year-old Peter Bourbeau was standing in knee-deep water when his right foot was bitten by what he described as a 4-foot-shark, Volusia County Beach Safety said. He told officials that he kicked the shark with his left foot, and it swam away.
The sharks in these attacks have not been identified, but Naylor said blacktips, spinners and juvenile sandbar sharks are frequently found in the area, and on occasion, hammerhead and tiger sharks can be seen.
To the surprise of many, he said, fairly large sharks will venture into shallow water.
According to the International Shark Attack File, Volusia County has recorded 303 shark attacks — the most in the United States — since 1882. The second closest is Brevard County, Florida, with 147.
Of the 1,441 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks in the United States since 1837, Florida dominates the list, with 828 recorded attacks. The second closest state is Hawaii at 162.