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I Witnessed a "Shark" Attack!
About ten years ago, husband Johnny and I were spending a couple of weeks at one of our favorite spots – Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia is in the Atlantic and is the state’s northernmost island and beaches. When we visit the island, we almost always stay at the Amelia-by-the-Sea condos because of their private fishing pier. We spend most of our time on the pier and have made friends with other vacationers we seem to run into year after year. Many are fellow anglers.
One such pal is Phil. We had met and made friends with Phil a couple of years earlier on the pier as we were all fishing for flounder. On this eventful trip, Phil and I witnessed something that I consider pretty amazing. The experience was a perfectly natural phenomenon, but I would imagine it’s fairly rare, just the same.
Phil and I were fishing about halfway out on the pier. It was a beautiful summer day, and we were leaning on the pier railing bobbing our live mullet minnows under the wooden structure in hopes of enticing a flatfish to bite. In the water just beyond us were two boys sitting on their surfboards. The kids were probably 12 or 13 years old, and we were complaining about their trying to surf so near the pier when they had miles of ocean in which to enjoy their sport.
As we were talking, a huge dark fish-shaped creature came up from the water and seemed to attack one of the boys. This was one of the strangest sights I had ever seen. I knew I was seeing it, but it was hard for me to wrap my mind around it. The fish pushed the kid under, and his friend paddled frantically for shore, yelling “Shark!” at the top of his lungs. Everyone on the beach came running, of course.
Within just a couple of seconds, the attacked boy surfaced, sputtering for air. He managed to get back on his board, and soon others were in the water to help him to shore. When he reached the beach, he collapsed on the sand. Shortly an ambulance arrived to take the boy away.
Phil and I continued to watch the area where the attack had occurred. The “fish” surfaced again, and we got a good look at it. It was charcoal gray in color, with a length of about 14-15 feet. I noticed it had a very small dorsal fin, which I thought was very un-shark like. As I continued watching, I finally saw the animal’s tail. The tail was horizontal instead of vertical, indicating that it wasn’t a shark, at all. It was a marine mammal.
We later got the scoop from a friend with a police scanner. She told us that she’s heard on the scanner just a few minutes before the event that a pilot whale had been seen just beyond the beach at the Ritz-Carlton, and that it was swimming north, parallel to the shore. That would have put our pier directly in the whale’s path. Our “shark” was in actuality a short-finned pilot whale.
You might remember seeing footage on the news a few years ago of a pilot whale attacking a woman. It held her in its mouth and took her deep beneath the surface of the water. She survived, but the experience shook her up, of course. In the case we witnessed, however, I don’t think the whale was attacking the surfer. The boy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the whale surfaced for air, the boy was in the way and subsequently got pushed under when the whale submerged again.
I totally understand why the youth thought he was being attacked by a shark. I had a great view of the entire event, and if I hadn’t observed the creature’s dorsal fin and tail, I would have thought it to be a shark, also.
Later that afternoon, we asked around to find out how the boy was doing. He was fine and basically free of injury. He did have a rope burn on his leg from his surfboard leash that had wrapped around his calf when the whale pushed him under. I’d say he was pretty lucky – a great story to tell his pals and no real injuries!