Meet the shark attack survivor who opened a shark-themed vacation rental in Lake Worth Beach
Updated: Jul 12
GETTING ATTACKED AND nearly killed by a 12-foot bull shark would seem like a terrifying experience most survivors would prefer to forget.
Not Anthony Segrich.
The amiable Lake Worth Beach man, with a leg scar that would make “Quint” from the movie classic Jaws envious, chose to embrace his 2011 encounter, a decision that helped him move on from nightmares that haunted him for years.
“It’s a part of who I am,’’ he says.
And that helps explain why Anthony and his wife, Cheryl Spearling, decided to open a chic short-term vacation rental with a purposeful monicker, Case del Tiburon — Spanish for “shark house.”
As the name implies, sharks are everywhere in this refurbished 1925 Spanish Mission, a not-so-subtle visual fashion feeding frenzy a mile west of the ocean in the city’s Mango Groves Historic District.
A shark greets you from an address placard at the front door.
Sharks peer out from photographs and wood etchings on the walls.
Sharks cruise on pillows in the living room and bedrooms.
They circle each other on a stained-glass window above the kitchen sink and on ceramic coffee mugs on a shelf.
There are sharks on the bedroom nightstands.
There’s a cuddly plush shark on a child's bed.
There’s a framed shark mosaic made from shark teeth in a bookcase.
Even the light fixtures and towel hangers are sharks.
“People call it the Shark House,’’ Anthony said.
“We were able to just kind of incorporate it into a theme and make it really cool,” said Cheryl, who decorated the house with tropical tones of blues and grays.
“Casa del Tiburón,” she said, “is kind of an homage to his incident.”
"INCIDENT" IS A MILD way of describing what happened to Anthony after he spearfished his last cobia of the day off the Palm Beach Inlet on April 26, 2011.
As he recounted a few years ago in an episode of “I Was Prey” on the Animal Planet network, Anthony was 180 feet below the surface when he looked down to see a bull shark charging at him.
“I could see its teeth, I could see its eyes, I could see down its mouth,’’ he says. “This one was coming after me.’’
As the shark closed in, Anthony used his left hand to push its head, a move that directed the animal’s mouth away from his midsection.
“It whipped around and grabbed the knee cap and pulled me,’’ he said.
The shark made five rapid-fire bites across his left leg between his ankle and knee before swimming off. One bite severed the knee cap and ankle.
“My buddies said it was instantaneous. But to me it seemed like it lasted forever,’’ he said.
“You knew you were being eaten by something. It didn't shake its head, and that's the only reason why I have my leg.’’
The shark left a wound nearly 18 inches long and nearly 5 inches wide that clouded the water with blood. Anthony was able to fashion a tourniquet with his spearfishing line.
But his immediate fear was that he’d soon be eaten alive by other sharks, attracted to the scent of his blood. Fortunately, his two diving buddies were still close by and came to his rescue.
As one friend used his underwater scooter as a weapon to fend off approaching sharks, another used his underwater scooter to get Anthony to the surface.
He was 3½ miles off shore and the boat ride to Phil Foster Park took 30 minutes across 3-foot waves. A waiting ambulance took him to St. Mary’s Medical Center, where emergency-room surgeons wanted to amputate his leg at the knee. Anthony said no.
Dr. Robert Borrego, the hospital’s head of trauma, and his staff painstakingly closed the wound with 180 stitches. They told Anthony they could make no promises about saving the leg and warned him of a long painful road ahead.
There would be seven surgeries over the next six weeks to repair the nerves and veins. And it would be 3½ years before he was able to move his toes.
“They said I'd never walk again, but Dr. Borrego stitched every nerve, every vein back together painstakingly,’’ he said. “I had little hope of ever being able to walk normally again.’’
Anthony met with the media at St. Mary’s Medical Center a few days after the accident and broke into tears recounting the shark attack. He was scheduled to be interviewed from the hospital on CNN by Wolf Blitzer on May 2, 2011, but was scratched at the last minute by breaking news — Osama bin Laden had been killed.
The leg eventually healed, and Anthony walks today without a limp.
But it took five years for the nightmares to go away. He had plenty of support from his dive buddies, who gave him a light-hearted nickname: “Shark Bite.”
“One friend only called me ‘shark bite,’ basically forgot my name,’’ Anthony said.
“For me, talking about it and going through it and embracing it helped me get over the trauma of it.’’
Another big step in his recovery was getting back in the water. Anthony said “an inspiration and motivating force” was his best friend, Rob Murphy, who lost both of his legs to the propeller of a powerboat that struck him while he was scuba diving off the coast of Jupiter in 2009.
“It’s life changing when you come that close to death and survive. It puts a lot of things into perspective. For me, I needed to get back in the water. I needed to get back with my life,’’ Anthony said.
“Walking away from it would not help. I knew the sooner I faced it, the sooner it could be overcome.’’
About three months after the attack, Anthony returned to the ocean and went spearfishing again, this time off the Jupiter Inlet.
“And wouldn’t you know it? On my first dive I see a bull shark,’’ he said.
“It came right up. It got close. I thought I would have anger or want to shoot it. My heart raced. I looked at it and it kind of turned and slowly went down and then it disappeared.”
IN DECEMBER 2015, Anthony was sitting at the bar at City Oyster in Delray Beach when he met his future wife. Getting to know each other over drinks, they exchanged stories about their lives and quickly learned they shared a love for the ocean, outdoors and scuba diving.
And, yes, the shark attack made its way into their initial conversation at the bar.
“He had me at ‘Shark Bite,’’’ Cheryl says.
When they decided to open a vacation rental, they knew they wanted it to have a South Florida theme. It wasn't long before “Shark Bite” and his future wife locked onto the shark theme.
Each room has a shark theme and tone. A children’s room is friendly, with a plush cuddly shark on a bunk bed. The master has somber royal blue tones. Many walls are decorated with images of great whites and fins on the ocean, taken by photographer Craig Dietrich.
Since it opened in 2020, Casa del Tiburón has been rented out at least 500 times. About 20 percent of the tenants, usually divers and children, will ask about the inspiration for the house’s shark theme.
When that happens, Segrich shares his shark attack story.
“Usually, I’ll tell them to watch the Animal Planet episode,’’ he said.
But Casa del Tiburón is about much more than sharks.
Anthony and Cheryl consider it a model vacation rental, from the swimming pool and butterfly garden out back to details like the noise meters and cameras meant to discourage unruly guests.
“We have designed Casa del Tiburón to be a tropical oasis. The courtyard and pool are completely surrounded by beautiful tropical foliage and flowers as well as coconut palms, bananas, sea grapes and an ancient mango tree complete with orchids,” he said.
“The native butterfly garden surrounds the seahorse fountain and pergola swing creating a relaxing place to sit while watching monarchs, swallowtails, zebra and other species of butterfly dance from plant to plant.”
They didn’t know that their efforts to convert their home into a creative, attractive vacation rental would drop them into a heated debate over whether Lake Worth Beach should attempt to regulate short-term rentals.
Anthony and Cheryl are among a band of vacation home owners who are trying to work with the city on drafting measures to help the City Commission weed out problem vacation rentals.
They have invited city officials and commissioners on a tour of Casa del Tiburón.
“We wanted to show the positive side of the story. We wanted them to see all the safety features and technology,’’ he said, referring to noise meters and security cameras. “We wanted them to see how effective these were and that requiring them of every host would not be burdensome.’’
So far, only City Manager Carmen Davis and City Commissioner Christopher McVoy have visited. But Anthony is hoping more commissioners will stop by before the City Commission votes on whether to ban or regulate short-term vacation rentals.
“We want them to see that people from all over the world come to Lake Worth Beach and have a five-star experience and love our city and the memories they build at our home. We want them to see us for the asset we are to Lake Worth Beach,’’ Anthony said.
Anthony and Cheryl are among several dozen short-term rental operators working with a private attorney who specializes in vacation rentals. Their goal is not to threaten to sue Lake Worth Beach if commissioners pass a ban but to offer suggestions for “common sense and effective regulation to the city,’’ Anthony said.
The attorney, Keith Brady, plans to speak at a City Commission meeting the next time the short-term rental issue is on the agenda.
“Like it or not, tourism is a huge portion of the lifeblood of our downtown and beach, and short-term rentals are pretty much the only game in town open for tourists to stay local,’’ Anthony said.
“None of us can afford to lose this.’’
Want to stay at "The Shark House?" Click here.
© 2023 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.
If you enjoyed this story, please help support our independent journalism by clicking the donation button in the masthead on our homepage.
About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.