GALVESTON, Texas – A young girl was injured Tuesday after being bitten on the leg by a shark at Pirates Beach, Galveston officials said.
Her father, Matthew Melton, and his two children were returning to shore from swimming about 5:30 p.m. when she was bitten.
Melton said his daughter was in knee-deep water, on a ring, flutter-kicking while bait fish jumped around her.
He heard his daughter scream, saw the 3- to 4-foot-long white-bellied shark and pulled his daughter away and ran to shore.
The shark immediately let go and swam away, said Peter Davis, the head of Galveston's beach patrol.
Melton posted a statement on Facebook Wednesday that read in part, "Our sweet Marin Alice Melton (age 6) is recovering from a shark bite from Pirates Beach in Galveston. She resides at the UTMB hospital in Galveston. Marin is supported by her loving Melton / Corbett / DeYoung family."
Melton said his daughter will undergo multiple surgeries and that she is stable and her vital signs are good.
The child suffered significant soft tissue damage, authorities said. She was bit below her calf, above her left foot. Her foot was still attached and the bone was not damaged.
"That worries me because I have a 1-year-old," Jessica Rosales, who is vacationing, said.
The head of the Galveston Area Ambulance Authority, Nathan Jung, said a good Samaritan helped slow the girl's bleeding while the family waited for an ambulance.
"Some bystanders tied a tourniquet around her using a dog leash," Jung said.
Davis believes a school of bait fish was the shark's intended meal.
"Our belief is the shark bit this little girl's leg thinking it was a fish," Davis said.
Davis was quick to point out this was a bite, not an attack. He says a bite is a case of mistaken identity.
"A shark attack would involve multiple bites where the shark intended to eat the person as prey," Davis said.
The girl was transported to the University of Texas Medical Branch in stable condition.
Doctors stress the importance of getting in to see a professional as soon as possible.
"It's just important to get in, be seen (by a doctor), see people quickly. Not to delay. Any sort of delay will lead to infection," Dr. Joseph Love, a UT Health trauma surgeon at Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute, said. "It depends on the size of the wound probably more than it does of the age or the size of the victim."
Melton is a pastor at the South Church Kerrville and his wife is an assistant PE coach at Tally Elementary School, according to DailyTimes.com.
Davis said this is the first official bite of the year, but he is also quick to point out shark bites are exceedingly rare in Galveston. In the 34 years he's been working these beaches he said he's only had 10 or 11 bites.
Tips to avoid sharks:
- Avoid schooling fish
- Shuffle your feet
- Do not enter water if bleeding
- Don't swim near areas where bay empties into beach
- While fishing avoid being near bleeding fish
"Don't ever get in the middle of a school of fish because bigger fish are going to be around," vacationer Susan Pereira said. "We've seen a shark out just in the canal over here."
Despite the incident, some visitors said they haven't been deterred from swimming.
"We're here for the week, and we're not going anywhere," vacationer Diane Williams said. "We'll be in and out of the water."