Experts: Bull shark bites rare, but dangerous in Florida

It rarely happens, but when bull sharks do bite, they cause the most serious injuries of any shark species, experts say.

It did happen Wednesday, when a 31-year-old spearfisherman dove 60 feet into the waters off Singer Island and resurfaced with deep gashes on his wrist, elbow and triceps, Riviera Beach Fire Rescue reports. Kyle Senkowicz remained hospitalized in fair condition as of Thursday evening.

“It’s extremely rare for bull sharks to bite a person, but spearfishermen need to exercise caution because they’re doing something that is basically ringing the dinner bell for sharks in the area,” said Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.

Bull sharks are drawn to sound and smell of wounded fish, making spearfishermen more susceptible to bites.

Senkowicz encountered what the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission describes as one of the “more dangerous shark species” that accounts for the third-highest number of attacks on humans.

“It’s rare that anyone ever gets surprised by a bull shark while diving,” said Skip Commagere, who owns several Force-E dive centers in Palm Beach and Broward counties. “They’ll swim around in the waters and, in most cases, divers can fend them off.”

If they do bite, they usually hold on and shake for a bit, then release, Hueter said.

Bull sharks have serrated teeth, which cut easily through tissue, and are larger than other species common along Florida’s coast — like blacktip sharks.

“If they bite, it’s a mistake in a sense, but in the case of bull sharks, their biting machinery is well-developed and the wounds the cause are very serious,” Hueter said.

Bull sharks are also able to survive in waters with low salinity, so they can be found year-round in inlets, rivers, estuaries and even close to shore along the coast of Florida, Hueter said.

Hueter suggests having one person watch for sharks during spearfishing excursions, and immediately taking captured fish to the surface.

“Some spearfishermen like to tie their catch to their belt and keep on fishing, but like I said, that’s like ringing the dinner bell for bull sharks,” he said.

When sharks are spotted close to the shores in Palm Beach County, Ocean Rescue officials pull everyone from the water and raise the double-red flags, said Lt. Philip Harris of Ocean Rescue.

“But if you’re fishing or diving far out, there are obviously no lifeguards out there. You’ve got to be careful,” Harris said, adding that there were no shark advisories Wednesday.

Many times, divers and spearfishermen share the waters with different shark species without injury, Commagere said. In fact, several people sign up for dives at his centers just to see the “majestic creatures,” he said.

“Let’s face it, sharks don’t have the best reputation,” Commagere said. “Every time they’re depicted in a movie or TV show, the ‘Jaws’ music comes on and you think you’re on the menu. But the fact is you’re not on their food chain.”

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