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Mind the Sharks

In March 2013, I was freedive training off the coast of East Africa. The water was crystal clear. I was ready to ascend from a 100 ft dive when I saw a bull shark swimming towards me from about 100 ft away. I had no speargun or camera with me. The shark was behaving strangely; very alert and curious. It was more interested in me than any other shark I've seen. Without much concern, I started my ascent expecting the usual last-minute turn-around-and-gone move sharks always do. However, it kept coming closer. When it was about 15ft away from me, it suddenly increased speed and reached my left leg so fast it seemed a fraction of a second. It bit me between my knee and my ankle, shook its head a few times and then released me at approximately 80 ft deep.

My mask had filled with water from the shark’s movements shaking my whole body. When I felt free, I could see through the water in my mask that one of my fins was sinking to the bottom. I started swimming with desperation to the surface through about 80 ft of water I still had on top of me. The whole ascent felt very long. I was kicking hard with both legs but with only one fin still on me, using my hands as well to swim and with my mask full of water.

The scariest moment of my life was swimming to the surface thinking it could come back for another bite.

The boat came quickly after hearing my screams on the surface. Once on board, the crew used a tourniquet to stop the heavy arterial bleeding and doctors say that's what kept me alive for the 70 mile trip back to the main island where I was treated. I still lost a lot of blood and I was feeling weak. The damage was between my knee and my ankle. The bite reached down to the bone but did not break it, only severing my muscles, tendons, main veins and arteries. The doctors repaired and stitched everything in a four hour operation.

The simple rule, “always dive with someone else” is many times overlooked because we are too confident. Another freediver in the water with me could have made the shark act more cautiously in its approach. Having a speargun or a big camera to put in between me and the shark could have made a difference as well. There are also new and effective small shark shields that can be worn. But it’s very hard to know how the shark would have reacted to different scenarios and conditions. I think people who like to fight for a speared fish that the sharks are trying to eat (like I used to), should reconsider it, or at least evaluate the situation as unique, because the fact that you can get away with it a hundred times doesn’t mean next time will be the same.

Fortunately my story has a happy ending, considering all the possible outcomes of a big bull shark bite. I survived, kept my leg and I went back to walking normally and freediving again. I hope my story brings awareness to divers and spearfishermen and helps to reduce the chances of another attack. Special thanks again to all the people who helped me. I will be forever grateful. Dive safe.

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