Kaley Szarmack saves herself – then her friend – from a shark in Florida

By Maria Coder
August 21, 2015 10:45 AM

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A brave 10-year-old girl is being hailed a hero after being attacked by a shark, setting herself free, then heading back into the danger waters to rescue her 6-year-old friend.

Friends and family say Kaley Szarmack was enjoying a day at Jacksonville Beach, Florida, when a three-foot-long shark bit her leg as she was leaving the surf.

She walked herself out of the ocean and she realized that the 6-year-old was still in the water, so she turned around and went back and got the 6-year-old and took her out of the water, her father, Dave Szarmack, told WJXT-TV.

Kaley was rushed to the hospital, where she received 90 stitches to repair a four-inch gash on two sides of her leg, below the knee.

Dave, who’s also a firefighter, told the station, You see all kinds of things as a fireman, but when you see your baby, even if it was a little blood, but this was, to see it, I was just, it was really difficult to see. It was just tough. That’s my little girl.”

Kaley is expected to make a full recovery.

I am just so proud of her. And so thankful that she is doing so well,” her father said. “She’s got no permanent damage that we know of at this point, and they said she is going to heal up. She’ll be able to run, jump, swim and surf in not too long of healing time.”

He also said her scar will come with bragging rights. “[She’s] going to have a pretty big scar and quite a story to tell though.

The shark attack happened around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Firefighters estimate Kaley was in about three to four feet of water.

On Thursday, a 15-year-old boy was also bitten by a shark in South Carolina. He suffered bite marks to his leg and hand while surfing in waist-deep water in Murrells Inlet.

There’s been a string of shark attacks this summer. Data from the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida shows the number of shark attacks across the country to be slightly above average for this time of year, according to USA Today.

Pro surfer Mick Fanning, 34, famously made headlines – twice – for fighting off a shark; once during a live surfing competition in South Africa on July 19 and again when he returned to the water in August in Hastings Point, Australia.

Last month, Craig Ison, 52, a former boxing champ from Australia, was attacked by a great white at Evans Head and repeatedly punched the shark until it backed off.

Shark expert Larry Cahoon tells PEOPLE there are important precautions beachgoers can take to prevent an attack from happening.

“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 or from being actually interested in eating something that’s close by.”

Some data show that most attacks occur during dusk or dawn, but 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.”

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