A 12-year-old Pennsylvania girl had to get 42 stitches in her leg after wildlife officials said she was probably bitten by a sandbar shark while in the water in Ocean City, Md.
Melissa Prushinski, from the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., area, said she, her husband, two daughters and other family members were on vacation in Ocean City. On Monday, just before 4 p.m., some members of their group went to their condo. She and one of her daughters, Jordan, stayed on the beach near the end of 119th Street.
Jordan was in knee-deep water, and her mom was watching her while sitting on the beach.
“All of a sudden, she comes running out of the water and said, ‘Mom, something bit me,’ ” Prushinski said.
When Prushinski looked down at her daughter’s left leg, she said she saw blood and bite marks. She ran to a lifeguard. An EMT and nurse who also were vacationing came over to help. Prushinski said she held up a towel so Jordan couldn’t see the blood while others cleaned and bandaged her wounds.
“She might have been more anxious if she had seen more of the blood, but otherwise she stayed very calm,” Prushinski said.
Lifeguards got Jordan on an ATV and to her father’s waiting car. Her family drove her about 30 minutes to a hospital, where she received the stitches. A physician in the emergency room told her parents it was “definitely a shark,” according to Prushinski.
Officials at Maryland’s wildlife agency and Ocean City Beach Patrol were a bit skeptical at first because there were no eyewitnesses. Typically someone would have seen something on a crowded beach, they said.
Jordan later told her mom that, at first, she thought she had been bitten by “a horseshoe crab.”
Ocean City Beach Patrol officials sent photos of Jordan’s bite wounds to wildlife experts at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Gregg Bortz, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said in an email that “while we cannot say with absolute certainty, our shark experts did review photos shared by the OCBP, and the injuries sustained are consistent with a bite from a sand shark.”
He said it wouldn’t be considered an attack “as the animal appears to have bitten and let go quickly.”
The state had a shark expert, Mark Sampson — a charter boat captain and fishing guide in the Mid-Atlantic — look at photos of the injuries, and he agreed it’s “most likely a sandbar shark” that bit Jordan.
On Friday, as he was catching a shark on a fishing trip, Sampson said the “only way to know for sure if it was a sandbar shark would have been to do a DNA test” on Jordan’s leg. Such a test was not done, according to Jordan’s mom.
“It looks like the shark didn’t really clamp down, but their top teeth are sharp and long so it doesn’t take much to create the wounds she sustained,” said Sampson, who also serves on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service Advisory panel.
The shark, wildlife officials said, seemed to have “mistakenly bit the 12-year-old and immediately released her,” realizing she wasn’t the food it was looking for. Sandbar sharks typically feed on smaller fish or crustaceans and are not known to be aggressive toward swimmers.
Sandbar sharks, also called brown sharks, are found in grassy shallow areas in the summer and fall, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Adult sandbar sharks can grow to 7 feet and juveniles are usually between 2- to 3-feet long.
In 2014, a man was bitten by what wildlife officials later said was probably a sandbar shark while he was clamming in the Chincoteague Bay area. That same year, a fisherman was bitten by a 3-foot-long shark at Assateague Island as he tried to grab and reel it in, according to Delmarva Now.
The DNR and Ocean City Beach Patrol provided tips to avoid sharks.
Officials said people should be cautious when swimming from dusk to dawn in murky waters and in areas with drop-offs or sandbars. They also advised staying away from people who are fishing because bait can attract sharks. And swimmers should avoid “wearing shiny things like jewelry, watches and sequins in the water” that also could lure sharks, officials said.
Jordan is expected to heal after two weeks with stitches but can’t go into the ocean or a pool until they are removed, her mom said. Jordan was disappointed she couldn’t play in an upcoming softball tournament or start the fall soccer season with her team. But the family is grateful the shark didn’t bite ligaments in her leg, Prushinski said.
The day after the shark bite, Prushinski asked Jordan if she would be going back into the ocean some day.
Jordan answered, “It’s amazing it happened once. What are the chances of it happening again?” And said she wants to go back into the ocean.