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We escaped to the Romar Place condos in Orange Beach, Ala., the other day following an invitation from older friends Hank and Nickie Thompson. The Harrison couple who've been married 65 years spend a week here each year and this was our second October to visit.

This trip was different than last year's because it took only 15 minutes (rather than three hours) to find their condo once I'd arrived in the Orange Beach city limits. That bizarre story is old news which took an entire column to explain this time last year.

By 2 p.m. we'd unpacked and settled in. Then, simply because we could, it was off to Bubba's Oyster House for three dozen or so oysters as our appropriate and richly deserved greeting to the Gulf.

The next morning on the third-floor covered patio overlooking the sun-splashed beach, I was watching uncharacteristic tea-colored surf generated in the wake of Hurricane Nate breaking across the shoreline when my eyes focused on an odd commotion beneath one umbrella.

Within a minute one emergency vehicle pulled across the beach and stopped at the spot, followed by another, then another, until six arrived. What the hermit crab was going on down there?

Emergency medical technicians knelt to tend to a figure I still couldn't make out since by then a small crowd had encircled the spot.

"It had to have been a jellyfish, or heart attack or maybe a stroke," I reasoned, continuing to watch for several minutes. Jeanetta and the Thompsons stepped onto the patio, as did others in units around us in the high-rise.

It was impossible to tell any more about the scene, other than someone was down in the sand obviously for some medical reason. Finally, the humidity forced us back to the air conditioning.

The day wore on. The four of us returned from a meager two-dozen oyster lunch with crab claws at the Oyster House in nearby Gulf Shores, still wondering what had happened on the beach hours earlier.

The elevator door finally slid open and a late-30s couple slipped inside to join us in the cozy compartment.

I noticed the man's right leg below the knee was wrapped in thick pressure bandages all the way below his heel. Me being me, I asked good-naturedly what happened. "Land shark get ya?" I smiled.

There was only a grimace in his response. "No, it was a real shark that bit me this morning just outside the condo while I was wading," he said.

And just that unexpectedly, we realized who it was we'd been watching earlier.

The man said he and his wife from Tennessee had come (like we from the hinterland all do) to get away and relax for a few days. He said the surf was cool and he was enjoying the feel of waves breaking around his waist when seemingly from out of nowhere, he felt a hard blow to his lower leg.

"I never even thought about a shark," he said. 'I didn't know what had hit me at first, not until I saw the five-foot-long fish swimming around me and blood pouring from my leg. Then I couldn't believe it."

A doctor sewed up the gouge carved from his lower rear calf and puncture wounds in his heel caused by the razor-sharp teeth, then bandaged them heavily and sent him on his way. I didn't ask, but I suspect an injection or two was also in order to ward off any potential infection.

The elevator eased to a stop and we began exiting, leaving this man and his wife with a vacation to remember and a story to carry home. "Oh, and apparently I'm not alone. We understood from the paramedics that another person not just up the beach also was bitten by a shark this morning," he said, "so they definitely are swimming in there."

National Geographic TV says the U.S. averages just 19 shark attacks each year (only one fatal attack every couple of years). Considering they are far from common and apparently unprovoked as with this poor Tennessee Volunteer, I'd say we were well outside statistical probability to have had two occur the same morning outside our condo. What are the odds of ever meeting a person who lost a chunk of his leg to one?

And we wondered what might have happened had the victims wading in the relatively shallow surf this day been children. This was no 15-foot Great White cruising these resort shallows--more like a raggedy-toothed tiger sand shark.

Sipping coffee on the same patio the following morning, we noticed the informational beach flags flapping in the breeze. Today, one of those was purple, which means "dangerous marine life" is lurking in the waves. We'd seen the evidence.

So I decided to take childish revenge and ordered blackened shark for dinner.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at

Editorial on 10/15/2017

Print Headline: When the shark bites

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