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Shark bite? How experts identify bites from sharks, toothy creatures, barracuda, bluefish

How can you tell what type of shark bite? Experts study teeth marks, shapes, puncture wounds, and if there's a distinctive crescent pattern.

Florida Today

It's rare, but a trip to the beach in Florida can end up with a shark bite − or a bite from a toothy sea creature.

When this happens, people are likely to ask, "what bit you?" Specifically, they're fishing for details on what kind of shark bite caused the wound on a leg, foot, arm, hand or other body part.

In rare tragic incidents like the one on Friday, June, 7, 2024 at Rosemary Beach in Walton County, Florida, a 15-year-old girl was one of three people attacked by sharks in two hours. The girl's mother said on a platform for hospital patients that the teen's left hand was bitten off and a leg had to be amputated.

What does a shark bite look like? It depends. Sometimes, you can see the arch of teeth marks on a shark bite victim's leg. Other times, after scarring, it's a subtle mark.

How do experts determine what type of toothy sea creature took a bite out of flesh? Here's what we know.

Where do most shark bites happen? Is Florida the shark bite capital of the world?

According to theֱ, Volusia County is known as the "shark bite capital of the world." Volusia County leads the state with 351 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks from 1882 to the present (June 2024).ֱBrevard ranks second withֱ158, followed by Palm Beach County with 83. The attack file also lists Florida as the world location with highest attack rates.

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What types of sharks are involved in shark bites in Florida?

According to the International Shack Attack file, these species are involved with unprovoked shark attacks in Florida:

  • Blacktip shark
  • Blue shark
  • Sandbar shark
  • Bull shark
  • Hammerhead shark
  • Lemon shark
  • Nurse shark
  • Requiem spp. (blacktip, spinner or sandbar sharks)
  • Mako shark
  • Tiger shark
  • Spinner shark

How can you tell what type of shark bite? When is it not a shark bite, but a bite from a toothy sea creature?

Sharks inhabiting our beaches are each identifiable to experts byֱdistinct teeth markings and shapes. Typically, shark bites have a distinctive crescent pattern of cuts or puncture wounds.

Some fish attacks, like those of aֱbarracuda or bluefish, haveֱoccasionally been misidentified as shark bites. Distinct features of the wound can help experts distinguish a shark from another creatureֱandֱdetermine theֱspecies and size.

Bites from a barracuda or bluefish appear as a slicing laceration, Dr. Grant Gilmore, senior scientist forֱֱin Vero Beach, said in a July 30, 2019, FLORIDA TODAY story. Aֱbluefish bite is distinct in its small, cutting wounds.

Here are some of the most common culprits andֱthe gnarlyֱevidence they leave behind. (This roundup of sharks and shark bites came from the July 2019 FLORIDA TODAY story.)

Blacktip reef sharks cruise in the shallow waters. They're one of five reef species of shark that have declined in numbers in recent years.

Blacktip shark:ֱThe most common bite on the east Central Florida coast comes from a shark thatֱs pretty easy to spot. The blacktip sharkֱhas a bite distinct in its numerous small teeth punctures, which differ from a bluefish's cutting wounds. The creature ֱֱitsֱprotruding fin a vision of its namesake ֱֱlikes to linger about 100 to 200 feet from shore and forage on small fish.

A diver takes a swim with nurse sharks.

Nurse shark:ֱWith tiny teethֱused to crush their prey, nurse sharks also gobble on small fish, including lobster. The nurse shark's small, turf-like teeth wouldn't produce a cutting wound, but the creatureֱhas been reported to attack humans if provoked.

Sand tiger sharks swim around in their gallery at the Georgia Aquarium.

Sand tiger shark:ֱSand tiger sharks also feed on small fish, using theirֱpointed, fish-hook-likeֱteethֱto hold and swallow their prey whole. They are notֱa dangerous shark, even though it looks like it would be. A bite from a sand tiger shark, which is uncommon, would produce small puncture wounds fromֱthe top and bottom jaw.

Bull sharks such as this one are often the culprit in shark bites.

Bull shark:ֱKnown to be more aggressive, the bull shark hasֱa jaw distinct in its broad, cutting upper teethֱand pointed lower teeth. That is forֱholding prey ... coming down and cutting. If this shark bit someone, it would produce puncture wounds on one side of the bite, cutting on the other.

"Tiger Sharks" is one of the photos by Brian Perry in Perry's exhibit, "Underwater Photography," on view May 1 to 31 at Booklovers' Gourmet in Webster.

Tiger shark:ֱSharp, cutting teeth, similar to those of a bluefish,ֱbut bigger,ֱcharacterize the tiger shark. Their wide jaws allow them to eat sea turtles, which are more abundant on the Treasure Coast than any other area in the western hemisphere.ֱTiger sharks can grow to 18 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. They are responsible for most attacks on humans off Hawaii. Their unique jaw produces cutting wounds on the upper and lower portion of the bite. A bite by a tiger shark is also distinguishable in its saw-like appearance. Once it hasֱlatched onto its prey, a tiger shark shakes its head back and forth.

What does a shark bite look like? What does a shark bite scar look like?

Below is a photo gallery with images that show the might of sharks and the marks they leave behind. WARNING: Some of the shark bite photos are graphic.

Sangalang is a lead digital producer for USA TODAY Network-Florida. Follow her onֱֱor Instagram atֱ. Support local journalism.ֱ.