SUMMER OF FEAR: Florida's Fernandina Beach reopens after rare double shark attack left visitors terrified of the water
The beaches of Florida, the shark attack capital of the world, saw more than one-third of the 88 unprovoked shark bites that were documented by the Florida Museum of Natural History around the world last year.
That said, shark encounters are quite rare as you go up the state's Atlantic coastline, with almost no reported attacks in the northernmost Nassau County. On the other hand, vast majority of these attacks were witnessed on the southern beaches between Miami and Cape Canaveral.
But on Friday afternoon these statistics were blatantly defied, as two consecutive shark attacks within minutes of each other saw two people severely injured and Fernandina Beach being shut down.
The beach is located about 25 miles northeast of Jacksonville, just south of the Georgia border.
In a conversation with News 4 Jax, 30-year-old Dustin Theobald, the first victim, spoke from his hospital bed: "I was in two feet of water or less, laying on my stomach."
According to Theobald, he was watching his 8-year-old son, Emerson, play in the surf, when "I felt something grab onto my foot and pull."
At the time, the 30-year-old felt no pain. However, judging from the gouges the predator left on his foot, he believes it was either a nurse shark or a blacktip shark.
"I reached down for my foot. I put my hand on his head - he was probably four to five feet [long] - and when I did that, he shook twice and when I did that he released and left."
"I got bit! I got bit! Get out!" screamed Theobald, catching the attention of one onlooker, who told First Coast News that she saw him stumble and struggle on one foot, hopping towards dry land.
"There was no one besides him and myself over in that general direction. He yelled and he went down and he was kind of hopping and he looked over at me and goes 'I got bit, I got bit! Get out!' and motioned towards the beach," she told First Coast News.
"He barely made it out of the water," another witness, Mike Webb, told the outlet. "He laid down at the lifeguard stand and they just went to wrapping and gauzing. His left foot was -- from what he said was, he could see the bone on the top and the bottom."
Both sides of his foot had four-inch long lacerations from the bite, along with tendon damage that could take months to heal.
"It looks like I might have some tendon damage," Theobald said. "But it's cut, it's bad. It's 4-inch lacerations on the top and bottom."
According to a statement released by the City of Fernandina, a second swimmer was attacked less than two miles down the coast as soon as the ambulance arrived at the beach to pick Theobald.
Bitten no more than five minutes after Theobald, the 17-year-old victim cause authorities to evacuate all swimmers out of the water along the beach, according to First Coast News.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, in the last 135 years, only four shark attacks had been recorded in Nassau County before Friday afternoon. On the other hand, over 800 attacks were reported across the state in the same period.
Having said that, the last encounter at Fernandina Beach was recorded over three years ago. At the time, a shark dragged a 12-year-old boy through waist deep water, and the boy had to punch the predator to break free from its grasp.
Now the museum is warning that as more humans are wandering into their feeding grounds, such attacks are bound to increase. That said, shark populations are dwindling due to the menace of overfishing.
Officials at Fernandina Beach flew red flags to warn people away from the waterline as soon as the second attack took place. A sheriff's truck rolled along the shoreline, warning beachgoers to move out with a loudspeaker. The scattering of the people wading out of the waters late Friday afternoon was recorded by News 4.
"The shark has already bitten two people. Please exit the water," the driver said.
"There's a shark in the water that has already bitten two people," he repeated as he crossed a small group of people waist-deep in the ocean. "I would move."
Currently, both victims have sustained non-life-threatening injuries and are recovering in the hospital.
According to a GoFundMe page set up to cover Theobald's medical expenses, over $2,000 had been raised as of Monday morning.
Rescue crews learned from witnesses on the beach north of Jacksonville that they had seen fins emerge from the waters.
The beach was finally re-opened on Sunday morning. According to authorities, the rare double attack came after several years.
"The last time we had one was about two or three years ago. We haven't had any shark bites in quite some time," Fire Chief Ty Silcox told Jacksonville.com.