‘It was a nightmare’: 12-year-old boy is on the mend after third NW Florida shark attack in 2013

Jacob Fuller
12-year-old Zachary Standridge stands with his father, Scot Standridge. Katie Standridge, Zachary's mother, said the football playing Tennessee boy is now learning to throw with his left hand.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Karen may have played a role in an apparent shark attack in Destin on Saturday.

A 12-year-old boy was taken by ambulance to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center after being bitten in the Gulf of Mexico behind the Silver Beach Towers in Destin.

George Burgess and his staff at the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida study shark attacks worldwide. He said he did not know enough information about the incident to determine the culprit, but that bull sharks are often the offenders in this area, because they like the warm, dirty waters of the Gulf.

Lack of visibility in the water is one condition that can directly affect a shark's likelihood to attack a human. Destin’s beaches were particularly churned up Saturday with double red flags flying as a result of Tropical Storm Karen. When the water is murky, like area waters have been much of this summer due to heavy rains and sediment runoff, sharks can get confused and are unable to distinguish between humans and other creatures in the water.

"In some cases, sharks are simply out looking to go for an appropriate-sized food item, and the human might represent that when in the water," Burgess said.

Burgess said the most common shark attack is what he called a "hit and run," in which a shark bites a human, and then quickly flees after realizing the person is larger than the prey they seek. Standridge's attack didn't seem to fit into that mold, Burgess said, due to the severity of the wounds and the presence of a second wound.

Despite the low visibility in Emerald Coast waters this summer, Saturday's attack was the first in Okaloosa County this year. However, it’s the third such incident in Northwest Florida this summer.

In September, a man was bitten in 10- to 12-feet of water in Pensacola and a 7 year-old boy in Panama City received puncture wounds and a gash on his ankle that appeared to have been from a shark Sept. 2.

Burgess said the total number of attacks is down worldwide this year compared to last year. The largest contributing factor to the total number of shark attacks is the number of people in the water, Burgess said.

"It's one of those stats where it's got to have a big asterisk next to it," Burgess told The Log. "All things being equal, each year will be the highest on record, simply because the human population rises every year. With it is a concurrent increase in aquatic recreation."

The total number of attacks fluctuates year-to-year, though. Burgess said several factors, including meteorological and oceanographic conditions and economic conditions that affect the number of people who visit the coastlines of the world.

The only area shark fatality on record occurred in Walton County in 2005 when 14-year-old Jamie Marie Daigle of Gonzales, La., was killed while boogie boarding about 250 yards out.

Zachary Tyke Standridge was much more fortunate.

Destin Fire Control District firefighters responded to the scene at about 3:30 p.m. A crowd had gathered poolside around the Madisonville, Tenn., boy who had bite marks on his lower arm.

“It was a younger male about knee deep in the surf, and he appeared to have what seemed consistent with a shark bite,” Capt. Mark Hutchinson told The Log. “It was not an amputation, but a pretty significant sized laceration.”

Standridge's mother, Katie, told the Northwest Florida Daily News that Zachary will have plastic surgery on his arm, followed by 10 weeks of physical therapy. Even then, he may not regain full use of his arm.

"He’s doing really well. Right now, his arm is working like it should for what it’s been through," Katie Standridge told The Northwest Florida Daily News. “It was a nightmare, but there were so many strangers there just to help."