Shark Watch: Predator tears Florida woman’s foot with ‘bodies slithering’ between her legs in ‘feeding frenzy’

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A shark snapped a woman’s foot like a bear trap, and clenched tight as she felt “bodies slithering” between her legs. 

“I was shaking, kicking wildly to get it off, but you don’t have much power in the water,” Debbie Salamone told Fox News Digital. “I’m screaming, ‘It’s got me,'” as the shark’s grip tightened.

She was only about waist-deep and 50 feet away from the Cape Canaveral National Seashore in Florida, but she couldn’t move. 

She felt “bodies” brushing against her legs and swarming around her. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I’m in this feeding frenzy,” Salamone said. 

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“I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know if the shark is eating my foot. Everything felt the same. There’s this intense pressure and pain,” Salamone said. 

“There’s all this blood in the water, and now I’m struggling to get back to shore, but every step I take is harder and harder” until the shark finally let go.

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Salamone’s Achilles tendon was completely severed, and the front of her leg “folded over the top” of her foot. “And my heel was all ripped apart,” she said. 

Her partner at the time – this was 2004 – grabbed her by the arms and dragged her to the shore, where she collapsed. Blood washed out with the waves. 

Incredibly, a nurse was one of the few people left on the beach, and she rushed to Salamone’s aid. 

But there was a race against the clock. The storm from an impending hurricane grew stronger. Thunder roared, lightning lit up the sky and the tides washed further onto the shore. 

Salamone’s foot was “mangled,” and she couldn’t walk.

“We’re crawling foot by foot up the beach,” Salamone said. “It took a while for rescue to show up.”

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First responders finally got to her, and rushed her off the beach and to the nearest hospital, where she had emergency surgery and stayed for three days.

But the hospital was in the hurricane’s path, and “they were trying to get everybody possible out of the hospital,” Salamone said. 

By the time she was discharged, hurricane pandemonium seized the area. Residents flocked to gas stations, and everything, including doctors’ offices, was shuttered and locked down. 

Within days of returning home, she said she lost power. It was “hot and miserable” as she elevated her leg. 

Multiple hurricanes pounded the Florida coast. And that’s how her 18-month recovery started.

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At the time, she was passionate about ballroom dancing, and she said she remembers looking at her sequined gowns and high-heeled shoes, and “I’m thinking I would never dance again,” Salamone said. 

“I always felt a passion for nature, and I thought this was really the ultimate betrayal … I was upset and angry, and I really hated sharks. I hated nature.”

Pain to power

Salamone had her life ripped out from under her with the snap of a finger. She was at a crossroads. 

She could continue to wallow in pity and drown in hatred, or could face this challenge head on. 

“If I can forgive the darkest side of what the ocean has to offer, then wouldn’t I really be the truest, most heartfelt advocate for the environment and the ocean?” Salamone remembered thinking. “I decided, yes, OK, that’s what I’m going to do.” 

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Although dancing was a passion, she was a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel at the time. She took over as the environment editor and went back to school to get her master’s degree in environmental science and policy.

Now, she’s one of the fiercest shark advocates and started a group called Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation in 2009 that rallies other shark survivors from around the world to advance conservation efforts. 

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What bit her? And an expert’s advice 

Looking back, she said it was a bad omen when “a big fish just jumped out of the water right next to me,” as she made her way to shore. 

The shark that bit her was likely chasing that fish before it mistook her foot for its meal and gnawed at her foot and leg. 

Salamone doesn’t know for sure what shark attacked her, but a spinner or black-tip shark are the most likely culprits because of their five-to-six-foot size and how close the shark was to the shore. 

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Dr. Megan Winton, a leading shark expert who leads research efforts at Cape Cod’s Atlantic White Shark Recovery, said humans’ instinctive response to fight, splash and thrash is the worst thing to do during a shark attack. 

“It attracts attention and looks like a wounded animal,” Winton told Fox News Digital. “And moving whatever part they have back and forth across the teeth in the shark’s mouth can make injuries worse.”

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If anyone finds themselves in Salamone’s dire situation, Winton said the best thing to do is fight back by attacking the shark’s eyes and gills.

“Those are softer, more sensitive, and they’re more likely to drop prey that fights,” Winton said.