A 12-year-old boy was swimming in chest-deep water at a Florida beach on Memorial Day when he suffered what Brevard County Ocean Rescue representatives say might be a shark bite.
The possible shark attack occurred around 3:15 p.m. at Sidney Fischer Park in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The boy suffered a six-inch laceration to his right leg, and was pulled from the water by his father.
“We were swimming in the ocean, and then you heard the scream,” a female witnesses told Fox35 Orlando. “Off in the distance, we saw a father carrying his son, and you could physically see there was some type of laceration on his ankle, blood was dripping from it.”
Lifeguards treated the boy on the beach, wrapping his leg to stop the bleeding. The boy was then rushed to a local hospital by paramedics.
The presumptive Cocoa Beach-attack happened just one day after a 13-year-old boy was bitten by a shark at Florida’s Neptune Beach, just east of Jacksonville. Just one week prior, another child, an 11-year-old girl, was also bitten by a shark in Jacksonville.
Also on Sunday, a three-mile stretch of Corona del Mar State Beach in Southern California was closed after a great white shark reportedly bit a woman 150 yards offshore. The woman had large bites on her upper torso and shoulder.
And just two weeks ago, a 23-year-old woman was the victim of an attack by a two-foot nurse shark in Boca Raton. She ran out of the water with the shark still attached.
2015 saw a record-breaking number of shark attacks in the United States with a total of 98 unprovoked shark attacks – up from 2000’s previous high of 88. More than half of those attacks (51%) occurred in Florida, according to the Brevard Times.
Eight of 2015’s shark attacks happened in Cocoa Beach’s Brevard County – the most in Florida. Its neighboring county, Volusia, followed closely with seven attacks.
The beaches at Brevard and Volusia counties are popular tourist destinations, neighboring Orlando’s Universal Studios and Disney World.
George Burgess, director of the international Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, tells Reuters that a recovering shark population should mean more shark bites in 2016.
Shark expert Larry Cahoon tells PEOPLE that despite the onset of recent attacks, beachgoers shouldn’t avoid the ocean.
“You have a higher chance of getting into a car accident driving to the beach than you do getting attacked by a shark when you get there,” Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, tells PEOPLE. “The fact is that sharks have millions of contact hours with humans on beaches every year, yet attacks are really rare. Just be smart.”
But when they do attack, just swim back to shore as fast as you can, he advises.
“People say to swim slowly back to shore, but what is that going to do? Swim to shore as fast as you can shark that means to eat you will keep coming. You need to call for help. People who survive all but the least damaging shark attacks got immediate help from others,” he says. “Basically, don’t swim alone in shark waters.”
When it comes to fending off a shark, Cahoon says punching it in the nose, gills or eyes won’t do much good.
“A 10-foot bull shark will weigh close to 500 pounds and is essentially all muscle. What chance would anyone have?” says Cahoon. “You won’t be thinking rationally even if you have the opportunity to punch it, so just focus on getting back to land.”
Although Cahoon says there isn’t much you can do once you’re in the water, there are important precautions you can take to prevent an attack from happening in the first place.
“Sharks hear very well. They know you’re swimming, they know where you are and they normally don’t care,” he says. “But the one thing that changes the dynamic is if sharks hear fish struggling when fishers are reeling them in.”
That’s the moment Cahoon says to stay out of the water.
“That’s a dinner bell to them and they can get very interested in eating,” he says. “That’s when they’re probably more likely to attack a human, either from mistaken identity of from being actually interested in eating something that’s close by.”
There is some data that shows most attacks occur during dusk or dawn, but at the end of the day, Cahoon says it can happen at any time.
“Don’t avoid certain colors, enjoy the ocean and know your surroundings,” he says. “They might follow surfers, but it’s because they’re curious. Sharks can’t see well and if they attack people close to shore, it’s because they’re confused. By the time they know you’re a person, it’s too late.”
Cahoon adds: “If you’re bleeding, get out of the water or you will quickly become their dinner.”