When Sharks Attack

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Great White shark in Hawaiian waters. Shutterstock.

Professional surfer Mick Fanning had a close encounter with a shark during a surfing competition in South Africa this week. Fanning was swimming out to a wave when he came into contact with the shark. Onshore and on television—the event was being broadcast live—onlookers reacted in horror as officials quickly tried to pull Fanning out of the water. CNN reports

Fanning escaped with a severed leash on his surfboard. He told World Surf League TV that he “punched” the shark in the back to scare it away.

“I had this feeling that something was behind me, and all of a sudden I felt like I started getting pulled underwater. And then the thing came up and I was on my board and it was right there,” he said.

“I had this thought: What if it comes around for another go at me?” he said. “Before I knew it, the boat was there. I can’t believe it, I was tripping out. I’m totally tripping out.”


New York-area beach scene, c. 1915. Library of Congress.

Until the early twentieth century, scientists and bathers believed sharks were too slow and dim to be interested in attacking humans. A series of shark attacks along the New Jersey shore disproved that theory, and swimmers were hungry for any information about the deadly sea creatures. The New York Times interviewed a seasoned boat captain on how to avoid being killed by a shark:

“It is no use trying to dodge a shark when you are in the water, because he is the fastest fish in the sea, with the exception of a dolphin. The best thing to do when a shark comes along, if you cannot get out of the water in time, is to shout as loud as you can and splash the water with your hands and feet. The biggest man-eating shark in the Indian Ocean is afraid of noise and will go away from a group of bathers at fifty knots when he is scared. 

“The Malays in the East Indies will dive into the water with a knife between their teeth, and fight a shark to the death, and the bronze natives have got the big fish in those waters so scared that they will not bite a black man, but will attack a white man without any tedious preliminaries.”