A Shark Tried to Attack Me
A shark tried to attack me. It’s hard to write about this because I love sharks and don’t want to give people more reasons to fear them. I promoted sharks heavily while launching my new brand, Magic Ocean Media, and produced a short movie about sharks, called Shark Love. After sharing a boatload of beautiful shark experiences on social media, it seems necessary to share the uncomfortable ones, too.
And there are few things more uncomfortable than a shark chasing you out of the water when you’re on scuba.
It was a stormy day in a remote location with no one else around. We decided to do a relaxed dive near our sailboat. Brian and I felt entirely comfortable bouncing across big waves in our dinghy to a shallow dive site in about 40 feet of water.
I featured this site in my Shark Love movie and was excited to return and see the wild sharks again. The sharks were intensely curious last time we visited, and many small reef sharks gathered to buzz around us after we descended. We thought they had probably not seen a diver before.
A similar thing happened this time. We descended to find a few fish swimming in a mossy, Dr. Seuss type landscape. Not much was going on, but within ten minutes we had a small entourage of sharks following us around.
We were not spearfishing. We never spearfish on scuba. But the sharks were very interested in us anyway. They seemed to be attracted to the sound of the boat, or the sound of us making bubbles underwater.
A small whitetip shark started looping around us, and I recorded a video of it swimming beside me. This is common shark behavior. The shark comes up to say hi and then keeps going, never coming within reach. It’s happened hundreds of times, and I have grown to love their close passes. Sharks are compelling video subjects, and it’s neat to feel like they are interested in you. Most sea creatures like to stay far away from divers.
The close pass right before the attempted attack
But not this shark. It glided by, in what looked like a close pass. It was about five feet away when it surprised me by turning sharply in my direction. Then its blunt gray face came right at me.
I hit it in on top of the head with the strobe light of my camera, but it still didn’t leave. Now I was fighting with the shark underwater.
The shark came at me a second time, and I whacked it again on the head with my strobe light. Hard.
When I close my eyes, I can feel the dull thud of my camera striking the soft cartilage of the shark’s head. I can feel the surprise of the attack and the sharp clarity of mind which followed. Then it was pure instinct fighting off an apex predator trying to attack me in a foreign environment. I felt no panic. My body took over and did what it had to do. Nothing like this has ever happened. I have never hit a person or an animal before.
After the second strike, the shark swam away.
Brian was nearby but hadn’t seen any of this. I signaled with hand gestures I had seen a shark, and now things were not ok. I pointed at the surface to say we needed to swim back to our dinghy, anchored nearby. I put my two index fingers together to indicate I wanted us to stay together. Brian seemed to understand and stuck close to me on the way back.
It felt like a long swim, but in less than 5 minutes we were back at our dinghy. I watched big waves overhead from the storm and kept scanning the dark water for the aggressive shark, but it did not return. There were still several sharks following us, acting like sharks usually do: curious but wary. I kept an eye on them, and we made it back to the dinghy.
I have no media of the attack. At first, I regretted it because fighting with a shark would be a popular video. But now I’m glad I can’t review those scary moments by repeatedly watching the video, because I would. When I get a great video, I watch it over and over during the editing process. And once was enough.
All I have is this photo, which I snapped right before the attack began.
How do I feel about sharks now? I still love them and call them sharkies. But I am more cautious and would be more likely to get out of the water when a shark acts strangely, especially in a remote area where sharks aren’t used to divers.
I have gone out diving and snorkeling with sharks many times since this happened. I see it as an isolated incident with an unusually aggressive shark. They are apex predators and they do attack sometimes.
I am so glad I had a big camera to fight off the shark! I do feel vulnerable sometimes without my camera, especially now that I see how well it worked to defend me against the aggressive shark. I like to have it with me when I’m shark diving.
So this is not only my video camera; it is also my shark shield. And I know how to use it!
It’s essential to get back out there soon after something like this happens. I’m thankful to have a lot of opportunities to dive with sharks after this happened. I don’t feel lingering fear, and this incident happened about 6 weeks ago.
One aspect of the attack which is hard to come to terms with is that the attack came from a docile and chill species of shark: a Whitetip Reef Shark. They are often seen resting in caves or on the sea floor.
The international shark attack file shows three species of sharks are responsible for the majority of attacks on humans: White Sharks, Bull Sharks and Tiger Sharks.
I like statistics. They comfort me, especially when cavorting with potentially dangerous animals. I do not dive with the three most dangerous species of sharks, and want to think of shark diving as safer than driving a car. Now I’m not so sure.
I see it as a potentially dangerous activity, which I no longer take so lightly. Every time I’m in the water with sharks, I keep an eye on them and am ready to move away from the area or defend myself if they come too close.
The aggressive shark might have felt stressed from the storm, which produced strong currents and may have made the shark’s life harder. Maybe it was habituated to humans and had been rewarded with easy, juicy, parrotfish at the tip of a spear gun.
I’ll never know precisely why the shark went for me that day. I am very thankful he did not harm me, and plan to be more careful with sharkies in the future.