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Surf City shark attack spurs research in O.C. incident

By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6712, E-Mail

OCEAN CITY - A presumed shark attack in Surf City on June 9 has prompted investigators to take a fresh look at a 1980 case here on the city's 14th Street beach.

The Florida Program for Shark Research wants to know if Hatboro, Pa., resident Jeffrey Moffat was bitten by a shark while bodysurfing in Ocean City 25 years ago Wednesday.

Moffat, who was 15 at the time, suffered a hand-sized bite in his lower back. His father, Ron Moffat, said Wednesday the six teeth marks in his son's back obviously were made by a shark.

"I have no doubt it was a shark. A sand shark appears the logical choice," he said.

While the bite required stitches at Shore Memorial Hospital, the cuts were relatively superficial. Moffat's son was back in the ocean by the end of their two-week vacation in Ocean City, he said.

"They closed the beaches. I don't know for how long," Moffat said. "My son didn't know what happened. He just knew something hit him and grabbed him."

Ryan Horto, of Lacey Township, was surfing June 9 in Surf City when something - maybe a shark - lacerated his foot. He needed 50 stitches to close the wound.

The possibility of a shark attack generated local media buzz. After all, perhaps the world's most famous shark attacks took place in New Jersey in the summer of 1916. A shark killed four people and injured a fifth that summer around Mantua Creek. A great white shark that was killed nearby was blamed for the attacks.

Last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer called Florida researchers to find out when the last reported shark attack occurred in New Jersey. Michal Jones, who oversees the International Shark Attack File, found an unconfirmed report of a shark attack in Ocean City 25 years ago Wednesday.

"There hadn't been an attack in that area in a long time. That was the last one," she said.

Her database has recorded more than 4,000 shark attacks worldwide dating to the 1500s. She tries to corroborate all known shark attacks.

"We get a few mistaken cases. Sometimes it's not clear it's a shark attack," Jones said. "Sometimes tourist groups don't want to report shark attacks. They might say it's a big fish or something."

If it was a shark that attacked Moffat, it was news to many Ocean City residents.

"Shark attack? Where? In Ocean City?" police Detective William Getty asked.

He spent his summer in Ocean City that year. But Wednesday was the first he heard of a possible shark attack here during his lifetime.

He recalls the summer of 1980 in particular because that was the year he learned to water ski in the resort's back bays. That summer, he said, there were sightings of several large sharks in the shallow water of the bay. He said his friends teased him to get in the boat faster every time he fell.

"You played like you weren't worried. But I was a little concerned," he said. "It made you a better skier."

Retired lifeguard Angelo Psaltis said he, too, can't recall any shark attack in 1980. He spent 44 years on the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

"It's a fish story," he said. "It might have been a bluefish. But it wasn't a shark."

Psaltis said the last shark attack he can recall in Ocean City was in 1960 when a swimmer had two large chunks bitten from his leg. The Beach Patrol, which was competing in races late that afternoon, helped rescue him.

Psaltis said he is very skeptical that a shark was to blame for the 1980 injury.

"If it was a shark, we would have made headlines all across the nation. I mean, you're talking bells and whistles going off," he said.

Jones said she hopes to confirm through interviews, medical records and eyewitness accounts whether Moffat's injury indeed was caused by a shark. The records she keeps might help scientists determine why sharks attack people. So far, the numbers suggest shark attacks are extremely rare, despite the media attention they receive.

Most recorded attacks, too, are far from fatal, she said.

"Most people think of the really nasty ones. They don't think of the little sand bar shark nipping their foot," she said.

To e-mail Michael Miller at The Press:

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sandbar sharks are also known as brown sharks and are very common off jersey beaches, they rarely exceed 6 ft and are very different from a sandshark or dogfish especially in the teeth department. We get alot of them every year.

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Thanks flukerat: sand shark vs sandbar shark. I've hooked more dogfish in the surf than I care to count but never beached a Brown. Now that I think about it I recall fish_on (Skip) telling me about a sizeable Brown he fought from a sod bank, southern end of O.C.
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