US teen punches shark to stop attack

Caitlyn needed 80 stitches (Okaloosa County Sherriff's Office / Facebook)
Caitlyn needed 80 stitches (Okaloosa County Sherriff's Office / Facebook)

As Caitlyn Taylor swam in the ocean in Florida, what she thought was a dolphin coming up to play turned out to be a shark which had a different motive.

The Kentucky 17-year-old was in Destin with her family and high school softball team for a tournament when the shark bit her while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday (local time) leaving her with six puncture wounds.

The Okaloosa County Sherriff's Office says witnesses reported the 1.5m-long shark attacked while Caitlyn was in waist-deep water behind an apartment complex.

Police say she initially thought it was a dolphin in a wave approaching her, but she suddenly found herself being pulled under by her legs.

In the midst of the attack, Caitlyn managed to punch the shark to scare it away.

Emergency services said Caitlyn suffered scrape wounds on her left leg and puncture wounds near her right knee which required 80 stitches.

Police say they don't know what kind of shark it was, but attacks in the area are quite rare.

It is only the fourth recorded attack off Okaloosa County, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Hours after being treated at hospital, Caitlyn tweeted photos of her wounds and stitches, saying she was "beyond lucky to be alive".

She thanked everyone for their support and said she was going to be okay.

Her sister Paige said it was a "traumatising event" and called Caitlyn "strong" and a "fighter".