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Florida officials caution beachgoers about shark hazards along the Gulf Coast following three attacks

People walk along the shoreline in Navarre Beach (Via Damon Black/Shutterstock)

Authorities are using boats to patrol the ocean and cautioning swimmers about sharks this weekend along Florida’s Gulf Coast, where a woman and two teenage girls were injured in two separate shark attacks on Friday.

The incidents off beaches in the Florida Panhandle led authorities to temporarily close several beaches to swimmers on Friday. Beaches were reopened Saturday, with flags signaling high hazards.

“These incidents are very rare,” said Demian Chapman, a scientist and director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida.

“It’s even rarer to have two events in one day involving three people,” he told The Associated Press on Saturday. “The odds of that happening are extremely low.”

In Walton County, the sheriff’s office, fire department, and state wildlife agency worked together to patrol the water with boats and the shoreline with vehicles, the South Walton Fire District said in an update Saturday. Both attacks on Friday occurred in Walton County.

“Please swim carefully today, respect the Gulf, stay hydrated, and look out for your loved ones,” the fire department advised on social media.

Red and purple flags were used on Saturday to warn swimmers of the dangers.

“Purple Flags indicate the presence of dangerous marine life and single red flags indicate high hazard conditions,” the Bay County Sheriff’s Office explained in a social media post on Saturday.

A surfer heads to the water (Via Marshal Plaza/Shutterstock)

Small fish traveling in schools near the shore this time of year may have been a factor in the attacks, according to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

The first attack occurred Friday afternoon when a woman was bitten by a shark near WaterSound Beach, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office reported. She sustained critical injuries to her midsection and arm, with part of her arm requiring amputation, South Walton Fire Chief Ryan Crawford said at a news briefing. She was airlifted to a trauma center.

Less than two hours later, firefighters responded to another beach about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) east of the first attack “following multiple reports of a teenager injured by a shark,” the sheriff’s office said.

Two teenage girls were in waist-deep water with friends when they were attacked, the South Walton Fire District said.

“When lifeguards and deputies arrived on scene, they found one of the females had significant injuries to the upper leg and one hand,” fire officials stated in an update. She was airlifted to a trauma center. The other teen had what officials described as minor injuries on one of her feet.

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