Officials Close Beach After Shark Sightings

ByABC News
August 25, 2001, 8:00 PM

Aug. 25 -- Dozens of sharks off the Florida shore prompted officials to close a one mile stretch of beach today.

Officials say the sharks like the New Smyrna Beach because of an abundance of fish there to feed on. But these same waters are also enormously popular with surfers. While officials don't usually close the beach because of shark sightings, officials say many surfers are ignoring the warnings littered on the beach.

"These sharks are basically looking for bait fish and if they bite a human, it's generally out of mistaken identity," said Capt. Rob Horster of the Volusia County Beach Patrol.

The beach was closed Aug. 19 after several surfers in the area for a competition were bitten.

Eighteen-year-old Boogie Boarder, Ben Gibbs, was bitten by a shark today, marking the ninth person bitten off this beach in the last week.

Gibbs was bitten on his upper left thigh and right foot,about a mile south of the one-mile stretch of beach that officialsclosed for the weekend, said Horster.

There have been at least 19 shark attacks off New Smyrna Beachthis year almost half the number reported in the world. The beach is about 47 miles northeast of Orlando and is loved by surfers and considered one of the best surfing spots in Florida.

The beach was crowded today with families and curious onlookers carrying binoculars and searching for the sharks.

On Friday 30 to 40 sharks were spotted in the water by helicopters.

"[The surfers] are thinking about the gnarly waves," said Horster. "They don't care about what's out there. These guys have been born and raised here, they go surfing here all the time. They know the consequences."

Local businesses were reaping the benefits of the onlookers and the diehard surfers.

Rob Meagher, a bartender at The BreakersRestaurant and Ocean View Bar overlooking the closed area told the Associated Press that a lot of people were sitting at the edge of the water and gawking.