Beachgoers on Florida‘s Gulf Coast have been told to exercise caution after one woman and two teenagers were injured during back-to-back shark attacks on Friday.

According to local authorities, the unnamed 45-year-old woman was attacked while swimming at Watersound Beach around 1:20 p.m. local time. She suffered “significant trauma” to her midsection and, after being airlifted to hospital, had part of her arm amputated.

On Saturday, the unnamed woman was being treated at HCA Fort Walton-Destin Hospital and was in critical condition. Her current condition is unclear.

Firefighters and others carry a stretcher to a blue helicopter on the grass.

Rescuers in in Walton County, Fla., carry a shark attack victim on a stretcher to be airlifted to hospital on June 7, 2024.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office

South Walton Fire District Chief Ryan Crawford told reporters another shark attack took place about 90 minutes later near Seacrest Beach, about six kilometres east of Watersound Beach.

Two teenagers, ages 15 and 17, were injured in the attack. The girls were swimming with a group of friends near a sandbar in waist-deep water when the shark approached.

Crawford did not specify which teen suffered what injuries. He revealed one of the girls sustained “significant injuries” to her upper leg and one of her hands. She was in critical condition on Saturday.

The girl’s mother on Monday wrote on the non-profit website Caring Bridge that her 15-year-old daughter, Lulu Gribbin, lost a hand and a portion of her leg as a result of the shark attack.

Ann Blair Gribbin said Lulu was intubated in hospital but is now breathing on her own. When her daughter had a breathing tube removed from her throat, Ann said Lulu’s first words were, “I made it.”

The second teen involved in the shark attack is in stable condition and was transferred to a treatment centre for minor flesh wounds on her foot.

Several people carry a stretcher along a wooden path on a sandy, white beach.

Authorities carry a shark attack victim on a stretcher in Walton County, Fla., on June 7, 2024.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office

Both attacks occurred in Walton County, Fla., where shark bites are not common. It is not clear what kind of shark was involved in the attacks, or if it was the same animal.

USA Today reported police have asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to be on the lookout for a bull shark, which are common in the region.

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The Bay County Sheriff’s Office said the yearly schooling of bait fish in the region may have contributed to the double shark attack. During a press briefing on Saturday, Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr. said authorities had ordered the beach closed on Friday after the first attack. The order was not fully enacted by the time of the second attack, he said.

The beaches were reopened on Saturday. A purple flag, meaning a dangerous animal has been spotted, and a red flag, signalling the presence of dangerous rip currents, were flown in warning.

Adkinson said the last shark attack in Walton County occurred in 2021, and the victim survived.

He called the back-to-back shark attacks “an anomaly” and said authorities are doing everything they can to control and mitigate the incident. The investigation is ongoing, with the support of ocean wildlife experts from the research organization Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

On social media, the South Walton Fire District has issued several reminders to swimmers that they should be wary of marine animals.

“Please do not underestimate the open water and any marine life present,” the authority wrote. “As we move forward from Friday’s incidents, we continue to wish the best for the families and all involved, including the bystanders who selflessly rendered aid.”

On Monday, the fire district again reminded beachgoers to “respect the open water and all of the marine life that may be present at any time.”

The University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF) reported there are about 70 to 100 shark attacks internationally every year.

A new report from the organization claimed there was an uptick in the number of unprovoked shark attacks in 2023, with more fatalities than in previous years. A disproportionate number of these attacks occurred in Australia. Globally, there were 69 unprovoked shark bites on humans and 22 provoked bites tracked by the ISAF last year.

The odds of being bitten by a shark are incredibly low. ISAF recommends ocean swimmers stay close to shore, avoid swimming at dawn or dusk and avoid excessive splashing.

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