No sooner did we report an increase in worldwide sharkattacks (Issue 115 July/August 2001 “Understanding Shark Attack,” by Pete Taylor) than an eight-year-old boy had his arm torn off by an aggressive seven-foot bull shark off Pensacola, Fla., in July. The boy had been swimming in shallow water - understood to be murky as a result of recent rains - just after sunset on Gulf Islands National Seashore when a seven-foot bull shark attacked, severing his arm and tearing away one-third of the muscle in his right thigh. The child survived the attack - and was showing signs of recovery just before press time, a week after the incident - as a result of heroic action on the part of his uncle and a rapid response by a rescue helicopter and a team of medical professionals.
Following the attack, the boy’s uncle immediately wrestled the shark to the beach, whereupon a marine patrol officer shot three slugs into the animal’s head. They were then able to remove the arm from the shark’s maw as others delivered CPR and first aid to the stricken child, according to local reports. Ten minutes later, a helicopter from a local hospital’s response outfit, called BaptistFlight, was on scene. He was whisked to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, while his arm followed by ambulance. His arm was reattached quickly, and his leg was reportedly grafted with pig skin. Although in a mild coma, the boy was responding to voices and was apparently able to perform simple motor functions like wiggling his toes.
Local experts lauded the response as one that could not have been better executed. They said the incident was likely the result of a hungry shark mistaking the child for some other prey. Contributing factors included turbid water and the fact that the boy was swimming after dark.