We are now slap bang in the middle of Shark Week, Discovery Channel's 7-day series of shows dedicated to, you guessed it, sharks.
So rather than offering you random facts about sharks or GIFs about sharks or videos of sharks, we chatted to this real life shark attack survivor instead...
Name: Paul de Gelder
Occupation: Navy clearance diver
Attacker: 300kg bull shark
Survival method: Fighting for his life, blind luck.
In February 2009, Navy clearance diver Paul de Gelder was on a routine training exercise in Sydney Harbour, testing equipment in the shark-infested waters, when suddenly all his most horrifying nightmares came true.
One moment, the Australian hard-man felt a thud on his leg; the next, he was face-to-face with a 3-metre long, 300-kilogram bull shark, and fighting for his life in the jaws of a cold-blooded man-eater…
It was February, which is a hot time of year here in Oz, though it wasn’t a particularly hot day. It was overcast and the water in Sydney harbour was murky. We were just swimming backwards and forwards, while the science and technology team tested their sonar and video cameras on us in the water.
My junior guy had been in for half an hour, so I pulled him out and I jumped in. I was on my back, kicking and I looked over my left shoulder to make sure that I was going the right way.
When I was looking in the other direction, I got this huge whack in the leg. I didn’t think much of it because it didn’t hurt – like maybe the guys in the boat got a bit too close and nudged me. I looked down, and I came face-to-face with this shark.
Its lips were pulled back. I could see all its gums and its teeth from my knee all the way up my thigh and across my wrist.
Its tail was way beyond me, thrashing in the water. It was the epitome of something you'd had never expected to see, coming to reality.
I went into panic mode and it felt like it took about three or four seconds for me to react. I’d seen Steve Irwin so I thought, “OK, I’ll go for the eyeball,” but my right hand was in the shark’s mouth and I couldn't reach with my left. I tried to push him off by the nose and punch him, but then he took me underwater.
It didn’t hurt until he started shaking me. Then the pain was excruciating. He took me underwater and kept shaking me. I popped to the surface and quickly took a gasp of air. The next second, I was straight back under.
There was nothing I could do. I was completely at its mercy. It had my arm and leg pinned and I couldn’t move. I was basically a rag doll, and the shark kept shaking me until it ripped my hamstring out – it sawed the flesh, almost surgically, out of my leg.
I figured I was dead. I just accepted the fact that I was going to die. But then suddenly I was free.
It hadn’t let go, it just tore the flesh out of my leg. I was swimming away while it was busy swallowing.
I put my right hand out of the water to take a stroke but my hand was gone from the end of my wetsuit, completely gone. I couldn’t feel my leg so I started swimming with one hand and one leg towards the boat.
They say sharks don’t like human flesh; we’ve got too many bones and too much muscle. They like something fatty. But he got a good chunk of meat out of me. He took my leg all the way to the bone, missing the femoral artery by millimetres. If he’d nicked that, I'd have died.
The guys in the boat saw it all. They were gunning towards me while I was swimming back through a pool of my own blood. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I figured the shark would have swallowed by now, another shark would then be there and they'd just grab me by my other leg. I figured they going to eat me and I was dead.
I kept swimming and eventually the guys got there, out of sheer relief, I passed out. My mate Tommo thought I was dying and decided he was going to wake me up by stimulating me with his fist. So I woke up, hand missing from a shark attack and my mate beating the shit out of me, thinking, ‘Today can’t get any bloody worse!’
I wanted to look at my leg, but my medical training kicked in and I knew if it was horrific and I looked, I'd go into shock and die. I saw my hand was missing so I needed to tourniquet that up. I held the end of my arm with my left hand as tight as I could and held it above my head to stem the bleeding, while I just focused on talking to Tommo, looking in his eyes and listening to him. I figured that as long as I could see Tommo, I was still alive.
When we got to the wharf the paramedics hadn’t arrived. They couldn’t stop the bleeding in my leg so one of the guys had to put his hand into the wound and pinch-close an artery with his fingers.
Paramedics have a strict protocol: no more than five milligrams of morphine in the first 20 mins. I have a friend who’s a nurse who talked to the paramedics said that when they saw the condition of my body, they gave me four times that amount in the first five minutes.
On the way to hospital, because of my low blood pressure, I was having respiratory problems and I nearly died in the ambulance. It was just a really tough morning, you know? But you have those days sometimes…
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
01 Paul lay unconscious in a hospital bed for two days after the attack. When he woke up, he took the decision for doctors to amputate his severed leg, instead of “carrying it around like a dead lump”. He has since taught himself to walk using a prosthetic leg and has recently started running again.
02 Despite his horrific accident, Paul was back in the ocean three months after the attack, swimming with friends on Bondi Beach. Why? Because he’s “a firm believer in not letting the things that you’re afraid of stop you from doing the things that you love.”
03 Instead of hating sharks with every fibre in his body, Paul has developed a healthy respect for the toothy killers. He’s even given a speech to the United Nations in New York on the importance of maintaining shark populations, and protecting them from being hunted for their fins.
Paul's book, No Time For Fear, is available to buy online now. Follow Paul on Twitter @PauldeGelder.