Has the thought ever popped into your head that a man-eater is watching you from the depths? It’d be a rare swimmer or surfer who hasn’t.
Cue the theme music from Jaws. Shark Attack is a sensational headline. And the subject was always destined to become a Hollywood blockbuster.
1975 movie Jaws soundtrack on vinyl. Photo by Kevin Dooley.
In Australia, we speak as if we’re at the epicentre of shark attacks and the home of the Great Whites. However, despite the hyperbole here, the USA is where most of the action occurs. Florida alone almost doubles Australia’s recorded numbers for shark attacks.
You would be forgiven for assuming that Shark Attack must be an everyday occurrence. In fact, in 2019, there were just 64 unprovoked shark attacks — worldwide. Only 11 of those were in Australia.
Later on, we’ll be covering plenty more interesting aspects of sharing this planet with sharks. In the meantime, please keep reading.
For some perspective… in Australia, more than 2,800 people reported being attacked in 2019… by dogs. Two people were killed, 222 were hospitalised. And these numbers only relate to one state — NSW. Read more about canine attacks.
Our politicians leap into action when there’s a shark attack. Suddenly, they are offering to terminate this particular man-eater, this rogue, crush the threat of others like him and make going to the beach as safe as the postcards portray.
Therein lie the power of the press and of shark mythology. Dogs, not so much…
Context matters. We have spectacular, idyllic beaches. Our addiction to the seaside and fun in the sun has a tighter grip on the national psyche than Stephen Spielberg. And the price of entry for all this is no more than a bikini or a pair of board-shorts.
It’s in this wholesome context that images of the most bloody gore make their presence so thoroughly unwelcome.
The human body has, on average, between 4.5 to 5.5 litres of blood. And arresting the blood flow before it is all wasted after a shark has mauled a person seems like a superhuman order.
First Aiders and medical personnel are trained for this. And thankfully, Canadian-born, Dr. Jon Cohen, an honours degree medical doctor, is also here to help.
With his advanced training in Emergency Medicine, as a member of Surfing Doctors, and as a result of his passions, what Dr. Jon has come up with is the Calm As Shark Attack Slam Pack.
The Shark Attack Slam Pack provides elegant simplicity in a purpose-built kit for anyone faced with the gnarly task of stemming blood loss after a shark attack.
You can bleed out from an amputated limb in under 5 minutes. Bleeding needs to be stopped ASAP.
“It’s the simplest thing you can do,” says Dr Cohen, “to save someone’s life.”
The kit is designed for immediate action to achieve just one goal: stop the victim bleeding out.
It’s not a bulky metal encased kit but a small waterproof knapsack that can be brought to the beach with little more effort than it takes to bring sunscreen and board wax.
Confronted with a shark attack victim who’s losing blood at a rate of knots, the idea is to “slam that pack out”. Only essential First Aid items will emerge — most notably, a tea towel-sized piece of fabric with printed instructions.
The good doctor drew some inspiration for his shark bite first aid kit from a course created by the American College of Surgeons, called Stop The Bleed. Designed for lay people, this course came about in response to mass shootings in the U.S.
Dr. Jon quotes criteria for a life-threatening bleed from this Stop The Bleed course:
• Splurting out
• Pouring out
• Soaking through a towel or clothing
• Pooling up on the floor
• Making the victim pale and drowsy
“If any of these apply and all you have is direct pressure, do that,” he says. “Press straight on the wound to stop the blood coming out.”
He has also invested time and money into tourniquet designs.
“Immediate access to a tourniquet is kind of the holy grail in terms of preventing loss of life,” he says. “Once the tourniquet’s on, you’ve got at least 3 hours… probably more, before the tourniquet starts to damage the victim.”
The Calm As Shark Bite First Aid Slam Pack is ready to go with you to the beach.
Initially, the Calm As Shark Bite First Aid kit was funded by a benefactor who paid for 75 units to be distributed to any Esperance local who thought they might need one.
Stickers were included (as they continue to be) that users could affix to their car or boat to let others know essential medical equipment was onboard. Just like that, a network of like-minded ocean lovers connected in the small town.
This video shows Dr. Jon Cohen introducing the Calm As First Aid kit.
A First Aid kit is, of course, only as good as its accessibility. The Calm As kit is built for glove-boxes, PWC storage bins, and for stowing anywhere on boats. Rugged enough to live in your car or boat, it’s also compact enough to fit in your jet ski.
Inside the waterproof roll-top bag, it’s all hospital and military grade components that are Australian TGA-approved:
• 2-sided waterproof instruction card — step-by-step shark bite management on one side; step-by-step arterial tourniquet activation on the other.
• 1x SWAT-T tourniquet — designed for ease of use, super durable, and pocket-sized so you can have it with you in the water.
• 1x SiCH tourniquet — easy to use windlass tourniquet, designed to handle extremes of temperature and exposure to the elements.
• 2x 20x20cm hydrophobic “combine dressings” to cover gaping wounds, keep them clean, and help stem bleeding until help arrives.
• 1x elastic dressing to secure the combine dressings in place.
• 6x XL, Ultra heavy duty combat nitrile gloves.
This First Aid kit is designed to be a one-trick pony. And stopping someone dying after they’ve been mauled by a shark is a trick Harry Houdini would have applauded.
A sticker is included with the Calm As Shark Bite First Aid Slam Pack to let people know you’re carrying.
When the unthinkable happens, this kit’s collection of purpose-built products gives any responsible person a jump-start to take a first-responder role.
This next is a direct quote from the website where you can buy the game-changing $120 Calm As Shark Bite First Aid Slam Pack:
Lifetime replacement warranty – if the worst ever comes to pass and you need to use this kit on a loved one or a random on the beach, you’re a legend and we would be honoured to shout you a replacement (and a beer, of course).
Contents of Calm As Shark Bite First Aid Slam Pack
As mentioned earlier, Florida is a shark hotspot. That’s because sharks migrate down the coast of Florida, annually. Tens of thousands of them.
Blacktip sharks off Palm Beach, Florida.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have counted as many as 100,000 sharks in a single aerial photo. These are Blacktip sharks and while they’re migrating, anyone in the water would be within 20 metres of at least one of them, the boffins say.
Blacktips are responsible for many attacks, although these occur mostly in murky water and are considered a case of mistaken identity where the shark had expected a fish but nibbled a human limb instead.
That said, Blacktips are themselves snacks for another, much larger shark — the Hammerhead. Hammerhead sharks can grow up to 6 metres in length and weigh up to 450 kilograms.
Blacktip sharks have been responsible for 41 unprovoked attacks on humans, none fatal. Hammerheads have recorded 15 (none fatal), while the Great White is far and away the most dangerous shark, with 326 unprovoked attacks on humans — 52 of them fatal.
The Tiger shark follows with 129 attacks (34 fatal), and Bull sharks with 116 attacks — 25 of them fatal.
In all, there are some 375 species of shark. Only a dozen species are considered dangerous to humans. However, with mouths full of razor-sharp teeth, there’s good reason to avoid coming into contact with any shark around 2 metres or more.
Researchers at Stanford University looked at the odds for people who frequent the ocean on the California coast. It turns out Californian ocean swimmers have one chance in 738 million of being bitten by a Great White.
Scuba divers fared a little worse with a one in 136 million chance, while the odds skewed substantially south for surfers, who have a one in 17 million chance of being White bait.
Something mentioned earlier – the United States regularly records more shark attacks than elsewhere, however, its fatality rate for shark bites is not the worst by a long shot. In 2014, the US fatality rate was 1.7%. This compares to 12.8% for the rest of the world.
Shark attack is mostly about men, with only 11% of victims being women. Sharks are not playing the gender card, of course. Men happen to out themselves at risk more regularly and are also found to be disproportionately represented in drownings and other forms of accidental death.
Great White shark. Photo by Elias Levy.
Despite the overwhelming statistics and sheer size of Great Whites, many shark experts say it’s the Bull shark you need to worry about, especially if you’re a surfer.
Bull shark. Photo by Teddy Fotiou.
Where the waves break is generally at the point where the seafloor drops and that’s where bull sharks like to feed. They also prefer the same places people choose for swimming — shallow coastal and brackish waters. Bull sharks are notorious for entering fresh water environments.
Humans do most of the killing. Fishing activity, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, kills between 20 million and 100 million sharks a year.
Here, however, is an interesting fact for you. In 2017, the carcasses of 5 Great Whites washed up on the shores of South Africa’s Western Cape province. The dead fish ranged in size between 2.7 metres and 4.9 metres and all had one thing in common — the muscle wall between their pectoral fins had been torn apart and each shark was missing its liver.
It turns out that Orcas seem to have a taste for Great White livers. And when they want to kill the owner, they’ll swim below, undetected, then head up to knock the shark onto its back.
This renders the shark motionless thanks to a condition known as tonic immobility — a paralysis that affects certain shark species (Great Whites included) which, when prevented from swimming, are unable to pump water across their gills. The Orcas can then remove and devour the shark’s 270kg liver.
Orca a.k.a Killer Whale.
Also on the menu for Orcas are Hammerheads, Thresher sharks, Blue sharks, Basking sharks, and even Tiger sharks.
Orcas hunt in packs. When they’re after a shark, they’ll sometimes play around with it until the shark is exhausted.
You’ll be pleased to know that Orcas are not in the habit of dining on people.
• Swim in areas with lifeguards on duty and in areas protected by shark nets.
• Avoid being in the water at dawn, dusk, and at night, when sharks are more active.
• Like most predators, sharks gravitate to where food is plentiful. Avoid swimming at the mouth of a river or near seabirds, seals, or fishing boats.
• Avoid murky water. Curious sharks have no hands, and resort to their mouths to sample the objects of their curiosity.
• Avoid deep channels and other likely shark-friendly habitats.
• Sharks see contrast well, so high-contrast clothing and shiny jewellery may attract them, as does splashing around.
If a shark heads straight for you, turn and face it. Tread water so you’re in a vertical formation. By remaining vertical in the water, you’ll appear less like the shark’s regular prey, e.g. a seal, which is more often recognised as horizontal in the water.
A seal… something you don’t want to be mistaken for. Photo credit: dotLinda.
If you feel something nudge or brush past you, it would better to make your exit from the water, quickly and calmly, rather than stick around to investigate. Sharks are known to sometimes bump their prey before attacking.
Attacks on divers are relatively rare, as most sharks attack from below. In the presence of sharks while diving, stay calm. Aggressive behaviour on your part could aggravate the shark.
On the subject of being mistaken for a seal, are black wetsuits really a good idea? Evidence suggests that sharks have excellent vision but are considered colour-blind, whereas, black is considered the best colour for wetsuits because thermal insualtion is what we’re after.
When a shark is intent on attacking you, grab any available weapon, such as a paddle or a diving knife, ready to strike at its eyes and gills. If you have no weapon, you’ll need to gouge at these vulnerable areas using your hands. Striking the snout could get a result for you. The snout is another sensitive spot, but it’s also dangerously close to those razor-sharp teeth.
If you do suffer a bite, apply pressure directly to the wound to stop the bleeding. Try to swim on your back in an effort to leave the water as quickly as possible. Once you’re out of the water, make sure others are warned, and seek medical help.
Alert the lifeguard. Any rescue attempt is best by boat. That scene in the movie, where the shark’s onslaught inludes rampaging onto the deck of a boat, is pure fiction.
A scene from the movie, Jaws, directed by Stephen Spielberg.
Do not put yourself at risk if no lifeguard or boat is available.
Assuming you’re in a position to do so, help get the victim out of the water as soon as possible. Arrest the bleeding by applying pressure directly to the wound.
If you paid attention to our earlier advice, follow the directions that came with your Calm As Shark Attack Slam Pack.
Keep the person still and wrap them in towels to keep them warm, in case of shock. Dial 000 for medical assistance.
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