Tuesday, 2 February 2010

THIS IS WHERE THINGS GET SCARY . . .

March 4, 1985 was when Shirley Ann Durdin, a 33-year-old with four children, lost her life to a GW in Peake Bay, Australia. She had been snorkeling in water about 7 feet deep - equivalent to the deep end of a residential swimming pool - when she was fatally attacked by a GW estimated by witnesses to be 20 feet long. The first hit was a gory strike, the fish biting her in half. By the time Mrs. Durdin's would-be rescuers could get to the site of the attack, all that could be seen was the victim's headless torso. After a moment, the GW returned and took it as well. It was the first fatal GW attack in South Australian waters in over 10 years and the first time ever that an Australian victim was known to be eaten.
To be eaten - think about it for more than a moment and you're likely to push the thought from your rational mind and back into the depths of your subconscious, a dark pit that contains all of the other fears of death that are too awful to comprehend - the fear of falling, the fear of burning, the fear of being buried alive . . .
Unfortunately, it is this pit where most first thoughts and impressions of the GW reside. It is only with a bit of academic smoke and mirrors that scientists and researchers can cover up what remains the primary fascination that humans have with the GW, the fact that it is one of a handful of animals alive today that can actually eat one of us alive - and sometimes does.
To date the GW has been responsible for 65 deaths, worldwide since 1876! With 242 recorded non fatal attacks worldwide!





THE JERSEY MAN-EATER (or the 'Jersey Person-Eater' for those more politically correct than I)




Although 'Jaws' is completely fictional, its account of what might happen if a big GW decided to camp offshore of a beach resort community faintly echoes the occurrences of a 12-day period in New Jersey during July of 1916. During this short span, five men were attacked by sharks with four of them being fatal. The first, a young man named Charles Vansant, was about 50 feet from shore when he was bitten on his left thigh. He died of massive blood loss less than two hours later.

Five days later, about 45 miles north of the first attack, Charles Bruder was hit by a shark that took both his feet. Although a lifeboat was launched at the moment he began to scream, he was about 400 feet from shore - too far to help. He perished within minutes of his arrival at shore.

Six days passed before the next incident. In what would be the worst of the Jersey attacks, a young boy named Lester Stillwell was pulled under while swimming with friends in Matawan Creek, some 30 miles north of the second attack. Several men dived into the creek to attempt a rescue only to have one of them, the ironically-named Stanley Fisher, bitten on his right thigh. A large amount of flesh was taken in the attack and although Fisher made it to the operating table, the damage was too great and he, too, fell victim to a shark.

The final victim was on his way to shore as word spread of the Stillwater-Fisher attacks but was too late. He was lucky, receiving only a laceration that managed to miss any major arteries.

The Jersey attacks are not noteworthy for being GW attacks. Although it is likely that a GW or a close relative like the mako shark was responsible for the first two attacks, no GW has ever demonstrated a propensity towards venturing into a freshwater (as opposed to seawater) area. The only shark noteworthy of this behavior is the bull shark and this was the likely suspect of the final three attacks. However, the media frenzy surrounding the attacks and the fears that they spread are indicative of the public's continuing fascination with shark attacks.

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