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Shark attack

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A college student swimming at night with friends has a close encounter with a marine predator

A college student swimming at night with friends has a close encounter with a marine predator

Andrea Lynch has always had a taste for the sea, but never thought it would have a taste for her.

Lynch, 20, survived a shark bite while swimming in the middle of SarasotaBay.

A junior at New College of Florida, Lynch and three of her friends took a dinghy out to a 15-foot sailboat owned by the college and anchored in the bay about 200 feet offshore. They grabbed a 6-foot Zodiac inflatable dinghy around 10 p.m. and went out to the boat to check out the bioluminescence of microorganisms within the water.

“There are billions of them that light up with a bright, greenish-blue color, and are best seen late at night,” says Lynch. “Sometimes they call it ‘milky sea’ when you see the creatures all line up together and create glowing lines hundreds of miles long. It’s pretty cool.”

The boat they were on was donated to the college a few years ago, but it is used more often as a launch pad for swimming than for sailing.

“It’s partially made of wood, and the cabin is in pretty bad shape,” says Lynch. “No one has actually used it for sailing in a long time.”

Two of her friends stayed on the boat while the other went into the water with her. Around 10:30 p.m. Lynch was floating on her back with her arms stretched out, staring into the sky. That’s when the shark attacked.

“It was kind of a shock,” says Lynch. “I saw it thrashing and a flash of light and there was no question about what it was. I felt all the teeth around me — it was pretty scary.”

Lynch says the shark held her for a moment, twisted, and then let her go. She was in water about 7 to 8 feet deep.

“I didn’t feel the pain at all, or at least it didn’t register as pain,” says Lynch. “I was thinking more factually, like what exactly I had to do next.”

Lynch’s friends heard her call out for help as she swam back to the dinghy. Though media reports said her friends didn’t believe her at first, they actually had no doubts about what had happened, she says.

“They saw the creature thrashing next to me when it happened,” says Lynch. “My friend in the water helped get me on the dinghy and then from the dinghy into the boat. There is a stepping ladder into the boat, but it’s all covered in barnacles and you wouldn’t want to use it.”

Lynch recalls blood everywhere: on her, on the boat, on her friends, in the water. She didn’t start getting scared until she felt how deep the wounds were.

“I didn’t want to bleed to death, and all of my friends used their shirts to press on the wounds and they stopped the bleeding in about 10 minutes or so,” says Lynch. “I couldn’t believe what had happened; I had to keep repeating it to myself because it was so hard to accept.”

Meanwhile, in the confusion, the dinghy was slowly drifting away, leaving the four friends stranded.

“I remember one of my friends saying he would dive back in and get it, and I was like, are you nuts? There’s blood everywhere!” says Lynch.

As her friends called 911, Lynch could hear the woman over the phone telling them to reassure her to keep her heart rate down. A rescue boat appeared on the scene about 20 minutes after the incident occurred, and her back to the dock where the ambulance was waiting. She was taken to SarasotaMemorialHospital, and treated for puncture wounds around her left hip and ribs.

“It took hundreds of stitches to sew them up,” says Lynch. “I was told that if the shark bit any harder, it could’ve gotten my lungs.”

Lynch has been in and around water her entire life. An avid kayaker, she spent part of her childhood growing up in Tampa Bay, Fla., and remembers spending weekends on her father’s 19-foot Mako Bowrider.

“I’ve always liked to swim,” says Lynch. “What I liked about NewCollege is that it is a small school in a nice little town that has a great reputation, and it’s right on the water.”

Around 1:30 a.m. Lynch called to tell her mother about the attack.

“It was kind of shocking,” says Connie Lynch. “She called me and said, ‘Okay mom, I don’t want you to freak out,’ and of course I immediately thought she had been in a car accident.”

When her daughter told her the story, Connie Lynch couldn’t believe her ears.

“I said, ‘What? Is this a joke?’ and of course started freaking out,” she says. “I was so upset I had to give the phone over to my husband.”

A few days after her close encounter, Lynch went to visit Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

“We are 99 percent certain that it was a shark that bit her,” says Hueter. “I didn’t see the wounds because they were healing, but she brought me the photographs taken of her back with the spread of bite marks before they were treated.”

After pulling a few sample jaws off the shelf, it was determined that the bite marks were closest to those of a bull shark at an estimated 6 feet long. Bull sharks are commonly found in tropical shorelines and tend to be very aggressive. Relatives to great whites and tiger sharks, they are one of the three most likely to attack humans, although many attack inadvertently or out of curiosity rather than for food.

“This was more like a test bite — she was very lucky,” says Hueter. “There have only been seven shark bites overall since 1882 [in SarasotaBay], and this is the first one ever inside the bay.”

The shark may have bitten Lynch because she was a large floating object in the water, says Hueter.

“We do know they go after bottlenose dolphins, and maybe it thought she was one,” says Hueter. “But then it bit in and thought, ‘This is no dolphin; I’m not interested’ and backed off. Andrea just wasn’t what it was expecting.”

Hueter says he warns people not to go swimming at night, especially in the summer, because that is when the marine life is at its most active.

“That was her only mistake,” says Hueter. “Creatures like the bull shark are formidable.”

Lynch’s mother says her younger songoes surfing all the time and talks about the sharks he sees in the water during his travels.

“I’ve always been a little afraid for him, but never dreamed our daughter would get bitten instead,” says Connie. “It’s ironic. I remember when I was pregnant with Andrea, the first time I felt her flutter was when I was watching the movie, ‘Jaws.’ ” Lynch has never seen the movie — and doesn’t intend to.

“I was pretty lucky, having a run-in with that kind of a shark,” says Lynch. “I’ll be a little more cautious about swimming at night, but I’m not going to be afraid of the water. I mean, being bitten by a shark is a pretty unusual situation.”