Walton County, FL shark attack victims include two Alabama teens

Walton County, FL shark attack victims include two Alabama teens
By Fran Thompson
South Walton County, Florida Fire District lifeguards hung red and purple caution flags on Seacrest Beach (about 90 miles east of Orange Beach) on June 6 after two teenage girls from Mountain Brook were victims of a shark attack earlier that day. The girls were in waist deep water with a group of friends when the attack occurred. One teen, Lulu Gribbin, lost her leg and her hand (see her mom’s report below). The other teen received flesh wounds to her right foot.
Another shark attack occurred less than two hours earlier at Water Sound Beach, located about four miles to the west of Seacrest Beach. Elisabeth Foley, 45, of Virginia sustained severe injuries to her midsection and pelvic area and lost her left hand. She was swimming with her husband when attacked.
Officials do not know what kind of shark bit the victims, but they stated that a bull shark was the likely culprit. Police spotted numerous bull sharks near the area the morning following the attacks. Officials stressed that shark sightings on Northwest Florida beaches are not uncommon. But shark attacks are rare.
In June 2005, a 14-year-old girl from Louisiana on a boogie board 250 yards from shore was pulled under by a shark and bit in the legs. She died as a result.
In June 2021, a 14-year-old boy was swimming 40 yards from the shore in Grayton Beach when he was bit in the chest area. He survived.
“We want to reiterate that sharks are always present in the Gulf,” the Walton County Sheriff’s Dept. posted. “Swimmers and beachgoers should be cautious when swimming and stay aware of their surroundings. We know we share the water with sharks. We understand as tragic as this is, they are always in the water.”
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 120 shark-human interactions in 2023. Of the 69 unprovoked attacks, 16 were in Florida.
There were 14 fatal shark attacks worldwide last year, more than double the five-year average of six. The ISAF noted three of the unprovoked and fatal attacks in Australia were from Great White sharks attacking surfers.
There were no shark attacks reported along Alabama’s 50 miles of coast in 2023.
Since 1837, Alabama ranks just 11th in the U.S. for unprovoked shark attacks with 10. There were 928 confirmed attacks in Florida during the same time span.
Surfers accounted for 42 percent of all shark bites worldwide. The majority of unprovoked shark attacks are test bites, which occur when a shark misidentifies a human as their normal prey.
“While we’ve had some of those here along our history, they’re highly unusual, extremely unusual for two to happen in the same afternoon and within four miles of each other,” said South Walton Fire District Chief Ryan Crawford.
Pictured: The Walton County Sheriff’s Office Beach Marine Unit continues to monitor the shoreline and the beaches following the recent shark attacks there. “We want to reiterate that sharks are always present in the Gulf. Swimmers and beachgoers should be cautious when swimming and be aware of their surroundings at all times,’’ the office posted.