Doctor: Shark likely bit US tourist in PRico

By DANICA COTO, AP Associated Press.
17 August 2011.

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico.

A U.S. tourist who was swimming at night in a bioluminescent bay is recovering from a suspected shark bite that occurred in a tiny island near Puerto Rico, a doctor said Wednesday.

The woman underwent surgery for severed tendons near her ankle and is expected to recover, said Dr. Edwin Miranda, a spokesman for the Rio Piedras Medical Center, where the victim was treated.

He said doctors believe the bite may have been caused by a shark, but they are awaiting analysis from a marine biologist Thursday.

Authorities didn’t release the woman’s name. The newspaper El Nuevo Dia described her as a 27-year-old woman from Idaho who was traveling alone, according to an acquaintance of hers in Puerto Rico.

Marine experts said they suspected a shark was to blame based on descriptions of the extent of the injuries, although they had not seen pictures of the bite.

“It is a possibility,” said Ruperto Chaparro, a biologist and director of the Sea Grant conservation program in Puerto Rico. “For me, the shark bit her and said, ‘This is not what I want to eat’ and left.”

The woman was bitten late Tuesday while swimming at Mosquito Bay in Vieques, an island popular with tourists just east of Puerto Rico. The bay attracts hundreds of visitors with its bioluminescent waters filled with microscopic organisms that light up when something disturbs them.

The bay’s murky waters also act as a nursery for many fish species, including sharks, said Francisco Pagan, a marine biologist at the University of Puerto Rico.

Pagan said he suspected a juvenile shark was to blame after it was startled or it confused the woman’s leg with a food source. Tiger, nurse and reef sharks are the most common species in the area, but attacks are extremely rare, he said.

“I would not worry,” Pagan said. “This is not at all common.”

Puerto Rico has had only six recorded shark attacks, two of them fatal, with the last death reported in 1924, according to statistics from the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The woman was apparently on a guided kayak tour on the bay and jumped into the water, which tourists are allowed to do, said Mark Martin Bras, director of community affairs and marine life exhibit for the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust.

He said people have seen smaller sharks in the bay, including blacktips and hammerheads, but no attacks or bites have been reported.

“Some people here are in a state of disbelief,” he said. “Nobody’s panicking, but obviously there is concern because it is a tourism-based island.”





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