On the heels of a recent fatal shark attack in Stuart, Florida, researchers at the University of Florida – our local university here in Gainesville – developed a new scale to communicate the severity of a shark attack.
Being attacked by a shark sends chills up the spine of most. We’ve all heard of the movie Jaws and how some extreme injuries and perhaps even death are possible. So to better communicate the severity of such attacks, researchers at U.F. developed a scale similar to the scale for burn victims, creating a standardized way for medical personnel to evaluate risks and researches to evaluate trends, not to mention a way for the media and officials to communicate the impact of an attack to the public.
Dubbed as the Shark-Induced Trauma Scale, or SIT, the new system assigns scores to clinical findings like blood pressure, location and depth of injury, damage to organs and death. Lead researcher Dr. Ashley Lentz, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgery resident at the U.F. College of Medicine says “If it’s just an extremity and it’s an abrasion, it’s just a Level 1 injury.”
“If a shark comes up and takes a big bite out of a thigh and takes out the femoral artery, then that’s a life-ending bite – pretty quickly – and you are talking about a Level V injury,” Lentz said.
In announcing the study’s findings, researches gave an example of a Level III attack. A 35-year old man swimming approximately 30 yards offshore was attacked by a shark, which bit into the muscles of his calf and foot. He was hospitalized for infection and underwent 3 reconstructive surgeries.
Findings from the study showed that 41.7% of all shark attacks were minor Level I attacks, 16.7% were Level II, 18.8% were Level III, 14.6% were Level IV and 8.3% were Level V.
Researchers hope this new scale can calm public fears about sharks. Most attacks occur because of mistaken identity. They hope this new scale will also serve to educate ordinary people about the true nature of sharks, in addition to serving as a standard way to identify and treat injuries.