Big shark forces swimmers to shore on Anna Maria Island

Santa goes swimming with sharks

Santa and his elf went under water to greet visitors at the Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium in Texas.
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Santa and his elf went under water to greet visitors at the Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium in Texas.

A shark swimming near Coquina Beach prompted a purple flag alert Saturday afternoon that temporarily cleared swimmers from the water.

Members of the Todd Czaja family of Manatee and formerly Connecticut, who are Bradenton Herald readers, shared photos of their sighting of what they believed to be a bull shark, estimated at 9 feet long, as it cruised past the beach at about 1 p.m. on a balmy December Saturday.

“Just a note that it was a bull shark attack in New Jersey that inspired the book and movie ‘Jaws,’” Czaja noted in an email to the newspaper.

Lifeguard Chelsea Hart said the shark was spotted in the water just south of the first pier on Coquina Beach. Swimmers between Tower 2 and Tower 7 were ordered out of the water for about 25 minutes as a precaution until the shark left the area.

“He was just cruising,” Hart said.

Lifeguards were unable to confirm the specific breed of the shark.

In her three years working on the beaches here, she said, it was the first time she had seen a shark swim between the buoys and the shore.

Sharks have bitten humans before off Anna Maria Island.

In September 2011, a Longboat Key man suffered a 14-inch bite on his left thigh while off of Bean PointThe story went nationwide.

In October 2011, a man vacationing on the island was bitten on the left thigh by a shark while wade fishing at Bean Point.

In 2015, Florida had 30 unprovoked shark attacks on humans, or 51 percent of all the attacks in the United States and 30.6 percent of the world total. That was up from 23 in 2014, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File's 2015 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.

Last year, Brevard (8) and Volusia (7) counties on the Atlantic coast had the most attacks.