Shark suffering infection bites aquarium diver

April 19, 1991

The National Aquarium confirmed yesterday that a veteran employee was bitten by an ailing shark this week -- apparently the first shark bite since the aquarium opened a decade ago.

Aquarium officials refused to name the victim, described as a senior aquarist who has been on the staff 11 years. He was in good condition at University Hospital and expected to return to work next week, said aquarium spokeswoman Vicki Aversa.

The mishap occurred about 9:55 a.m. Tuesday, shortly before opening time, following a routine operation in which the shark was taken from its saltwater tank to a freshwater tank for treatment of a parasitic infection.

When the shark was returned to the saltwater tank, the aquarist -- in diving gear -- swam alongside to direct it safely out of its sling.

The shark then turned and bit the diver.

The 7-foot female shark -- "one of the smaller sharks in our exhibit" -- was recovering from an anesthetic and "turned" on the diver, who was swimming close by, Ms. Aversa said.

She said the shark "is not normally one of the aggressive species."

The aquarist received minor cuts and puncture wounds that required stitches.

Ms. Aversa said as far as she knew, it was the first time anyone had been bitten by a shark at the aquarium. Divers do not routinely enter the 220,000-gallon, circular tank in which the sharks are displayed, she added.

"His arm was in the wrong place in the wrong time," the spokeswoman said.

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