Could there be anything more terrifying than to be in the jaws of the most frightening creature on earth? Shark attacks are what nightmares are made of and even adults suffer the emotions of ‘night terrors’ when confronted with the thought. The 1972 movie “Jaws” scared the masses out of their bathing suits and although it launched research and awareness of these ocean predators, it left us with a little shiver in the back of our conscious when looking out at the deep blue waters. Considering the millions of people all over the world that work and play in the ocean, shark attacks are extremely rare. Each year there are less than 100 shark attacks around the globe and very few of those result in fatalities. The majority of attacks occur when the shark mistakes a human for its natural prey. From the deep, a surfer on a board strongly resembles the outline of a seal or sealion prompting an attack. Spearfishermen wresting with struggling fish create an irresistible stimulus and abalone and scallop divers on their breath-hold forays after succulent mollusks become marine mammals in the truest sense. Mistake or no, the end results are always tragic.
The first fully documented shark attack also gave Brook Watson the notoriety of being the first known shark attack survivor. The 14 year old Watson, an orphan, went to sea on his uncles West Indies trading ship plying the Caribbean waters. The year was 1749 and the merchant vessel was anchored in the Havana harbor when young Brook decided to take a swim alone. He was promptly attacked by shark, not once, but twice. In the first attack, Watson lost a chunk of flesh from his calf and shortly the shark returned and bit off his foot. His shipmates, who were rowing to shore witnessed the attack, fended off the shark and pulled the terrified lad aboard. They saved his life, but his leg had to be amputated below the knee. Watson went on to enjoy a distinguished military career, later became a Member of Parliament and was the Lord Mayor of London. In 1778, Watson commissioned the famous American artist John Singleton Copely to produce a painting of the ordeal that was named quite simply, Watson and the shark.
If there is anyone who can give lessons in ‘courage, determination and ‘coming back’, it’s Bethany Hamilton. The thirteen year old was Hawaii’s number one surfer in her age class and one of the best in the world when she paddled out to ride some waves with her best friend Alana and Alana’s father and brother on Halloween day in 2003. She was lying on her board, waiting for swells with her left arm dangling over the side when a 14 foot tiger shark came up from the deep and bit Bethany’s entire arm off at the shoulder. Making the 20 minute paddle back to the beach, a tourniquet was fashioned from a surfboard leash and Bethany passed out. Despite massive blood loss. Bethany survived the ordeal and was back on the water in less than a month; riding waves on Thanksgiving Day. Although at first her balance was off, Bethany compensated, she returned to professional competition and in 2005 she won the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s National title.
One of the most horrendous of shark attack stories happened during World War two in the Pacific near Guam on July 30, 1945. A few minutes past midnight, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine with the explosions ripping the ship in half. Of the 1200 sailors aboard, 900 survivors of the explosions made it in into the water, some with life jackets, others held on to debris or treated water. The ship sank in twelve minutes. During the first day whenever a sailor succumbed to injuries, they would be relieved of their life jackets and set free. The men were cold and thirsty, the sun was hot and they awaited a rescue that had not yet been initiated. On the second day, the sharks showed up. The men floated helpless as sharks circled incessantly; there were screams as the sharks tool one after one of the unfortunate sailors to their watery graves with everyone wondering if they would be next. On the fourth day they were spotted by a plane and the Navy vessel picked up only 300 survivors. The sharks were believed to be Oceanic whitetips.
The most famous of all shark attack victims has got to be the indomitable Rodney Fox. That Fox survived one of the most devastating attacks of a great white shark at all is a tribute the toughness of this Aussie spearfisherman. Fox, the national spearfishing champion was freediving in south Australian waters when he was taken from behind by a huge great white shark. Fox tried to fend off the shark with his spear to no avail. After doing his damage the shark turned away from fox and then came back and grabbed the fish Fox had on his stringer and pulled him back down. Fox eventually broke free and was picked up by boat that was close by. His rescuers left his wetsuit on, it being the only thing that was holding him together. Rodney’s entire torso was opened up exposing his ribs and heart and his right hand and arm was opened up to the bone. It took 452 stitched to close the wounds. Fox was back in the water shortly after his recovery and has become one of the strongest advocates for the protection of the species that nearly ended his life.