Florida Man Removes Shark Tooth From Leg, 25 Years After Being Bitten

A Florida man has pulled a piece of shark tooth out of his foot which had been stuck inside his body since 1994, when he was bitten by an unidentified animal in the waters off Flagler Beach, Florida.

Recently, Jeff Weakley noticed a blister-like lump on his foot which he popped open with tweezers. Unexpectedly, he noticed a fragment of shark tooth fall out, the Florida Museum of Natural History reported.

He alerted scientists at the museum—after reading about the Florida Program for Shark Research—who then conducted tests to determine the species involved.

"I was very excited to determine the identity of the shark because I'd always been curious," Weakley said in a statement. "I was also a little bit hesitant to send the tooth in because for a minute I thought they would come back and tell me I'd been bitten by a mackerel or a houndfish—something really humiliating."

Once the tooth fragment arrived at the museum, laboratory manager Lei Yang extracted pulp tissue from the tooth's cavity in order to test the DNA. This material was then compared to a database containing genetic information on sharks and rays.

These tests revealed that the tooth belonged to a blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)—a medium-sized species which is commonly found in coastal tropical and subtropical waters around the planet—according to a study published in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.

"Surface contaminants were removed and DNA extracted from the pulp cavity of the tooth," Yang told Newsweek. "We used modern genomic technology to sequence the DNA and compared the sequences obtained from the tooth with the sequences in our reference databases, matching them unambiguously to the blacktip shark."

"The Naylor Lab [at the University of Florida] has spent around 20 years sampling, sequencing, and maintaining the databases, which contain reference DNA sequence data for about 70 percent of all known sharks, skates, rays, and chimeras in the world," he said.

Blacktips are probably the most abundant large species in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, according to conservation non-profit Oceana. Not only does this mean that they are vulnerable to being accidentally captured, it also brings them into contact with humans. As a result, shark bites involving this type of shark are not uncommon in Florida waters.

"It was a mystery waiting for us to uncover," Yang said in a statement. "If I was bitten by a shark, I would want to know what it was."

The results confirmed Weakley's initial suspicions about the species of the shark that bit him. Despite the bite, he says that he was never put off from spending time in the ocean.

"I've been lucky to have not been bitten by a dog, but I would regard that interaction I had with that shark as being no different or more destructive than a dog bite," Weakley said. "I certainly don't have a hatred of sharks or any feeling of vindictiveness toward them. They're part of our natural world."

The fact that the Florida Museum team were able to recover any DNA at all from the tooth was surprising given that it had been in Weakley's foot for so long, where it would have been attacked by his body's immune system.

Determining the species involved in specific bite incidents is important because it could help to implement strategies for preventing such events in future.

"Different shark species have different life history and behavior," Yang told Newsweek. "If we had more information on the circumstances surrounding bites by different species we could vary strategies for bite mitigation accordingly, perhaps preventing more bites in the future."

This article was updated to include additional comments from Lei Yang.

Shark tooth
The shark tooth fragment next to a coin. Florida Museum of Natural History
Florida Man Removes Shark Tooth From Leg, 25 Years After Being Bitten | Tech & Science