Authorities warn swimmers after back-to-back shark attacks

WALTON COUNTY, FL – Authorities are ramping up safety measures along Florida’s Gulf Coast this weekend after a woman and two teenage girls were injured in separate shark attacks on Friday. The incidents prompted temporary beach closures and heightened patrols in the area.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with the fire department and state wildlife agency, deployed boats to patrol the waters and vehicles to monitor the shore. Despite the alarming events, beaches were reopened on Saturday with flags signaling high hazard conditions.

“These incidents are extremely rare,” said Demian Chapman, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. “The likelihood of two attacks in one day involving three people is astronomically low.”

The first attack occurred Friday afternoon near WaterSound Beach, where a woman sustained critical injuries to her midsection and arm, necessitating the amputation of part of her arm. She was airlifted to a trauma center. Less than two hours later, another attack happened about four miles east, where two teenage girls from Mountain Brook, Alabama, were bitten while wading in waist-deep water. One girl suffered significant injuries to her upper leg and hand, while the other had minor injuries to her foot.

Authorities are using red and purple flags to warn swimmers of dangerous marine life and high hazard conditions. Small fish traveling in schools near the shore may have contributed to the shark presence, according to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

The exact species of shark involved in Friday’s attacks remains unknown, but a 14-foot hammerhead shark was spotted near Santa Rosa Beach on Saturday. “Sharks are always present in the Gulf,” the Walton County Sheriff’s Office emphasized. “Swimmers should remain cautious and aware of their surroundings.”

In a separate incident on Friday, a woman in Hawaii was also seriously injured in an apparent shark attack off the island of Oahu. Despite these recent events, shark attacks remain rare. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, there were 69 unprovoked bites worldwide last year, with 10 fatalities.