Shark kills kite-surfer off the coast of Florida

By Calvin Palmer

A Florida man was killed by sharks yesterday while kite-surfing off the Atlantic Coast.

Stephen Howard Schafer, 38, of Stuart, was spotted in distress by lifeguard Daniel Lund who risked his own life to try and save the injured man.

Lund pulled Schafer on to a rescue board and hauled him the 500 yards back to the shore.

Lund, 46, himself a victim of a shark attack 21 years ago, said Schafer was bleeding and surrounded by several sharks.

On the beach paramedics tried in vain to resuscitate Schafer but he never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at Martin Memorial Medical Center.

Schafer, an artist and graphic designer, had to be around water, said Teague Taylor, a childhood friend and manager of a surf store in Stuart.

“Shark attacks, especially fatal ones, are extremely rare,” said George Burgess,  who directs the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History,  in Gainesville.

Yesterday’s attack was only the 14th fatal shark attack in Florida since 1896.

“Internationally, we’ve been averaging four fatalities per year, despite the fact that there are billions and billions of human hours spent in the sea every year,” Burgess said. “Your chances of dying in the mouth of a shark are close to infinitesimal.”

Marine experts speculated that a juvenile white shark may have been responsible for the attack. Pathologists were due to examine tooth marks on Schafer’s body — which included an eight to ten inches bite on his right thigh — to determine which species was involved in the fatal attack.

“Could it have been a white? Well it’s possible,” said George Burgess. “The odds are pretty high in favor of it being one of the others.

“Whites are cold-water sharks that make periodic forays into Florida only during the coldest times and don’t get much beyond Cape Canaveral. They are generally juveniles, around two meters or so.”

The last fatal shark attack in the state was in 2005 off the Florida Panhandle, where a 14-year-old Louisiana girl was attacked while swimming on a boogie board about 100 yards off shore.

While attacks are rare, Burgess urged caution when going into the ocean, which he likened to a wilderness experience.

“When we enter the sea, there are certain risks that we should expect,” he said. “We’re never guaranteed safety 100 percent of the time when we enter a wild world.”

At this time of the year, Burgess said the sharks congregate in the waters off South Florida preparing to move north as the sea temperature rises.

[Based on reports in The Miami Herald and The Times.]

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