Provoked, Nurse Shark Bites Florida Woman and Won’t Let Go

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A nurse shark latches on to a young woman in Boca Raton, Florida, on May 15. Boca Raton Fire Rescue

A nurse shark bit a 23-year-old woman in Boca Raton, Florida, on Sunday and didn’t let go. So persistent was its bite that the 2-foot-long shark was still attached when the woman was taken to the hospital, reported the Florida Sun Sentinel.

"The shark wouldn't give up," beachgoer Shlomo Jacob, of Boca Raton, told the paper. "It was barely breathing but it wasn't letting go of her arm, like it was stuck to her or something."

Witnesses told the Sun Sentinel that one or more people had grabbed the shark’s tail before it bit the young woman, which would be in keeping with everything we know about nurse sharks. Normally, these creatures shy away from humans and are quite docile; there are no records of them attacking unprovoked, says George Burgess, a shark researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History.

But when they are touched or fed, they do occasionally bite people, says Burgess, who also heads the International Shark Attack File, which keeps records on human-shark interactions. In the last few decades, there have been a total of 44 recorded, provoked nurse shark attacks on humans, though none of these has been fatal.

Though these sharks are normally not aggressive, their bite is no joke, as this woman in Boca Raton discovered. “A nurse shark bite is one of the worst, because their teeth are like cheese graters on each side,” and they suck food into their mouth, grinding up tissue as they go, Burgess says. “When they get onto a human being, it’s like a vacuum cleaner.… They leave a concave hole where they’ve turned flesh into hamburger.” For this reason, nurse shark bites are one of the most difficult kind to recover from. They also often don’t let go once they’ve latched on, he adds.

“They’re not ‘shark attacks,’ they are stupidity events, and you get what you get” when you mess with a shark, he adds.