Shark Bite Mystery Solved 25 Years Later Thanks to Tooth Tweezed From Foot

Photo: Kristen Grace (Florida Museum)

A Florida man’s long shark bite saga is finally over. Thanks to scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Jeff Weakley was able to find out the identity of the creature whose tooth was lodged in his body for over two decades: a blacktip shark.

As Weakley tells it, his right foot was chomped upon while he was surfing off the Florida coast at a college beach party in 1994. Though the bite left him with a deep cut and joint damage, Weakley was back in the water within weeks and continued to surf and stay active in the years after. In the summer of 2018, though, he noticed a blister-like bulge in the same foot. When he picked at the spot with tweezers, he pulled out a tiny sliver of tooth left behind all those years ago.

Weakley originally planned to memorialize his keepsake by putting it in a pendant. But after learning that scientists at the museum had identified the species of shark behind a recent victim’s bite, he decided to ask them for help in IDing his erstwhile attacker.

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“I was very excited to determine the identity of the shark because I’d always been curious,” Weakley, who is also an editor of Florida Sportsman magazine, said in a release from the museum. “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.”

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To the scientists’ surprise, there was enough DNA material left in the inner cavity of the tooth to extract and compare against a genetic database of sharks. And that’s when they confirmed that it belonged to a blacktip shark, or Carcharhinus limbatus. Their findings were published earlier this week in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Weakley himself had suspected that it could have been a blacktip, since they’re commonly found in warm and tropical waters, including those around Florida. Like many sharks who do occasionally bite people, they’re normally shy. But they can get aggressive when a natural source of food is around. As was the case here, most blacktip bites are relatively mild.

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For his part, Weakley doesn’t hold any grudge toward the blacktip that bit him, nor toward sharks in general.

“I’ve been lucky to have not been bitten by a dog, but I would regard that interaction I had with that shark as being no different or more destructive than a dog bite,” he said. “I certainly don’t have a hatred of sharks or any feeling of vindictiveness toward them. They’re part of our natural world.”

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About the author

Ed Cara

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere