Chapter 6- Shark Attack File
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) is the world’s definitive database of shark attacks. The reality is that shark attacks are rare and deaths are even rarer. One infamous shark attack occurred in South Australia in August 1963. During a spearfishing competition, Rodney Fox was attacked by a shark. Swimming with his speargun in about 50 feet of water, Fox had fastened a fish float to his diving belt, which allowed him to deposit captured fish there as he swam through the turquoise waters. Suddenly, he sensed a stillness in the water around him. It seemed as if all the sea life had disappeared. Then it happened. A shark hit him on his left side, blasting him with enough force to knock off his face mask and dislodge his speargun from his hand. Fox tried to gouge out the shark’s eyes but inadvertently extended his arm into the shark’s throat. Realizing his error, he yanked his arm out. The shark’s serrated teeth sliced his arm to the bone. When the shark released him, Fox kicked for the surface, feeling the shark body’s inches below his flippers. Gulping for breath, Fox grabbed the shark, wrapping his arms and legs around it to prevent it from biting him again. The shark then made a dive, and Fox found himself headed to the bottom of the sea. He released his hold and struggled to the surface, where he was finally able to catch his breath. When he looked below the surface, however, in water red with his own blood, he saw the shark grabbing for his fish float, which was still attached to his belt. The shark dragged Fox and the float back below the surface. As Fox struggled to undo the belt, the shark’s teeth snapped the line, which freed Fox to break again for the surface. Fortunately, as he burst through, he saw a boat and immediately started yelling for help.
Fox’s injuries were severe. His rib cage, upper stomach, and lungs were exposed to view, as was the white of his radius and ulna. His rib cage was crushed, and one of his lungs was punctured. The boat put to shore, and Fox was placed into a car and whisked to the hospital. Fortuitously, the surgeon on duty had just returned from England, where he had taken a specialized course in chest surgery. The operation lasted four hours. At one point afterward, a priest was summoned to give final rights. Fox was in earshot and shouted, “But I’m a Protestant!” In any event, Fox survived the operation, but he required 462 stitches. In the post-op picture, a circle of black stitches is visible, embedded in his skin from his shoulder down to his hip. Judging by the width of the bite mark, the shark was estimated to be 18 feet long. It was a miracle that Fox survived. Or as he put it, “I was not ready to go.” As severe as the attack was, at no time during the encounter was the shark trying to eat Fox, nor did the amount of blood in the water send the shark into a feeding frenzy. Fox readily admitted that if the shark had been trying to eat him, the outcome would have been very different. After his recovery, Fox became a protector and advocate for sharks and went on to design and build the first underwater observation cage for diving with the great white shark. For over forty years, he has led major expeditions to film and study his attacker.