A teenage girl fought off a 5-foot shark with a punch in the face after it grabbed her by the leg off the Florida panhandle on Sunday, authorities said.
Caitlyn Taylor, 17, needed 80 stitches for six puncture wounds to her right leg she sustained while swimming at a Destin, Florida, beach, according to her mom. She also had scrapes on her left leg.
Taylor, visiting from Lexington, Kentucky, was swimming in the waist-deep water around 3:30 p.m. when she saw what she initially thought was a dolphin headed toward her, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said in a release.
“She turned around and the head of it was coming towards her with a wave and she said she turned to swim back to shore,” her mother, Tracey Taylor, told WHAS-11 News.
That’s when the teen felt the shark “just grab her and lift her off of the bottom,” her mom said.
Caitlyn Taylor turned and punched the shark in the face, her mother said, and it released her.
Taylor, who was visiting the popular spring break location with her mother for a softball tournament, had “fairly minor” injuries, according to the sheriff’s office. A witness said it appeared the shark took a good bite out of her.
“She was bleeding pretty good. She was lucky it didn’t get her femoral artery because that could have been really serious,” Francis Thelen, a tourist visiting from Michigan, told the Northwest Florida Daily News.
It wasn’t clear what type of shark was involved in the attack. Witnesses said it was about 5 feet long.
Locals described the location of the attack, at the second offshore sandbar, as a popular feeding hole for sharks. Multiple Facebook users said sharks, including bull sharks — known as one of the most aggressive sharks — are frequently spotted in the area.
Shark bites are uncommon in the area. According to the International Shark Attack File, there have only been three other reported shark attacks in Okaloosa County, which includes Destin, since 1882.
In comparison, Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach on Florida’s southeastern coast, has had 290 attacks, giving it the title of shark-bite capital of the world.