Florida

Almost 25 years after shark bite, surfer finds tooth in “blister-like” bulge on foot

Jeff Weakley was surfing off Flagler Beach, Florida, during a college beach mixer in 1994 when a shark started trailing him, he said.

It chomped down onto his foot and shook it briefly, leaving Weakley with several lacerations, he said, according to a Florida Museum of Natural History news release.

But the shark attack didn’t seem to faze Weakly. The 21-year-old returned to the water just weeks later, surfing with his foot protected by a waterproof bandage and bootie, he said in the release. He continued to surf and fish weekly for years to come.

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“I certainly don’t have a hatred of sharks or any feeling of vindictiveness toward them,” Weakley said, according to the news release. “They’re part of our natural world.”

Last summer, Weakley noticed what appeared to be a blister on his foot, and he figured it formed because he’d been running more miles, according to the news release. But the bulge continued growing and he finally used tweezers to open it up, Weakley said.

That’s when he pulled out a shark tooth that had been lodged in his foot since he was attacked almost 25 years earlier, Weakley said.

Instead of turning the sliver of tooth into a pendant, Weakley decided to give it to researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History, who could use DNA analysis to determine the species of shark that bit him a quarter-century before.

Weakley, the editor of Florida Sportsman magazine, said he was excited to learn the species.

“I was also a little bit hesitant to send the tooth in because for a minute I thought they would come back and tell me I’d been bitten by a mackerel or a houndfish – something really humiliating,” Weakley said, according to the news release.

The species of shark that bites humans goes unidentified about 70 percent of the time, researchers say. Yet determining species is important to help reduce shark attacks, said Lei Yang, a laboratory manager who tested the tooth found in Weakley’s foot.

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Lei Yang, a laboratory manager at Florida Museum of Natural History, holds the shark tooth Jeff Weakley found in his foot. Photo from Florida Museum of Natural History.

Yang removed contaminants, scraped away enamel and pulp tissue and extracted fragmented DNA from the tooth to determine that a blacktip shark had bitten Weakley, according to the news release. Researchers were surprised that DNA was available in the tooth after Weakley’s immune system had attacked it for 24 years.

“If I was bitten by a shark, I would want to know what it was,” Yang said in the news release.

The findings were published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.

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Chacour Koop is a Real-Time reporter based in Kansas City. Previously, he reported for the Associated Press, Galveston County Daily News and Daily Herald in Chicago.
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