11-Year-old attacked by Florida shark in shallow waters

Jun 9, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: Florida Today/Atticus Gonzales

Every parent's most irrational summertime fear has come true. An 11-year-old boy survived being severely bitten twice or more on the leg by a shark in the shallow waters of Cocoa Beach, Florida.

The incident occurred at 10:50 a.m. on Sunday morning, directly in front of a lifeguard tower, according to reports from Brevard County Ocean Rescue. The young boy, visiting from Winter Springs, Florida, was bitten by a shark on his right calf which caused a deep laceration.

Authorities believe Lucas Vertullo may have been attacked by a bull shark, resulting in one of the worst injuries Brevard lifeguards had seen. Lucas was immediately rushed to Cape Canaveral Hospital and later airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando so doctors could treat his injured leg.

According to Brevard County Ocean Rescue Assistant Chief Eisen Witcher, "It was probably one of the worst shark bites we've had out here."

The most unfortunate part of this story is that Lucas was swimming in waist-deep waters when he was attacked. Really, this attack could have happened to any adult or child since Lucas wasn't doing anything unsafe. He had visited the beach with a large group of family. He stayed in shallower waters while swimming. Lucas even swam close to his mother and in plain view of the lifeguard station prior to the shark attack.

Orlando teacher and witness Stephanie Yelenosky said the shark attack happened within just 15 seconds, after beachgoers saw a shark rise up in the middle of a wave. Yelenosky, visiting the beach with a group of students, estimated that it was a "juvenile bull shark, about 4 feet long." Just a few seconds later, Yelenosky and her students heard screaming and realized the shark had attacked.

Authorities believe this may be the third shark bite that has occurred in Brevard County since Memorial Day, marking the start of the summer season when beaches are packed with tourists. Yelenosky calls the area "shark territory." Witcher confirms that more tourists are coming to Cocoa Beach, and this year has seen an increase in shark activity.

In an alarming story like this, there really isn't anyone to blame: Lucas and his family were doing everything right, and the surprise shark attack happened at an average day at the beach. But before you cross Florida off your family vacation list forever, as I am prone to do after hearing a terrifying news report, there are a few helpful tips you can use to minimize shark attack risk and make your family vacation even safer.

While the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission calls a shark attack "extremely unlikely" in Florida waters, beachgoers are urged to always stay in groups in the water since sharks are more attracted to solitary individuals. The FWC also recommends staying closer to the shore to make rescue and assistance easier in the event of an attack. Most importantly, stay out of ocean waters during twilight and darkness as this is the time when sharks are most active and also have a "competitive sensory advantage." The FWC discourages bringing family pets into the ocean since "their erratic movements can cause sharks to mistake them for baitfish."

Stories like this are unsettling for any parent to hear, especially as vacation season is upon us. The good news is that Lucas survived and is recovering well. The even better news is that this story can serve as an important reminder to add "shark safety" to your beach checklist.

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