Jeff Weakley was surfing at Flagler Beach in Florida in 1994 when he was bitten in the foot by a shark. Now he knows what kind of shark bit him — thanks to a tooth fragment he pulled from his foot more than two decades after the attack.
Weakley was surfing with some friends in college when he felt something bite his foot. He saw he was bleeding, and he went to the hospital where he received 20 stitches.
“I didn’t see the shark, but the doctors were sure it was a shark bite. I went into the database as one of the statistics,” Weakley told CNN during a telephone interview on Wednesday.
He said he suffered no major damage to his foot.
The shark resurfaces
But in 2018, Weakley started running and noticed a blister appear on his foot. He started picking at it and discovered it had a hard edge.
“I pulled on it and it came out, and immediately I knew what it was,” said Weakley, who lives in Jensen Beach, Florida.
Right around the time he discovered the tooth, he had read an article about a research team at the University of Florida who used DNA from a tooth to discover what kind of shark bit a boy in New York.
Weakley decided to see if he could get the answer to his attack’s greatest mystery — what kind of shark bit him?
He contacted the media relations department at the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History and told them he had a tooth sample he wanted to submit for DNA testing.
He admits he was hesitant to give the tooth to the researchers for fear that maybe he and the doctors had been wrong.
“Up until that point I was a statistic– a shark attack survivor, but what if I could be a mackerel attack survivor?” he said, jokingly.
A successful match
The scientists soaked the tooth to remove contaminants and extract the DNA, according to their published findings. They then compared the genetics to their database, they got a match.
A few weeks ago, Weakley received the results. His attacker? A Blacktip shark, a common culprit behind shark bites in Florida.
Researchers were surprised that they were able to extract DNA from the fragment given the amount of time the tooth was embedded in Weakley’s foot.
“I had put our odds of success at slim to none,” Gavin Naylor, director of the shark research program said in a statement.
Weakley, who still surfs, says he’s happy he found an answer to one of his life’s mysteries.
“Anything that helps understand our natural world is worth it, I am happy to make a contribution,” he said.