Friday, November 8, 2013

1963 shark attack survivor talks about the near fatal attack, his work on Jaws & his love for sharks

As the 50th anniversary of Rodney Fox's near fatal shark attack nears, we thought it would be nice to share his story.

Here's an interesting interview he recently did with some young students in Santa Barbara, California when he was in town to give a talk at the Underwater Film Festival.  In the interview, he discusses the attack, his work on the movie Jaws (and why he had to put lipstick on a real shark), and his overall love for sharks and the underwater world.

The students did a great job and it was an informative and fun interview. You really get the feeling like you are sitting down with him just having a friendly chat. Although I enjoyed the entire interview, I really loved how Rodney closed it out: "We have to look out for, but look after, the sharks. They can be dangerous, but we need them and they need our help."

This was my first exposure to the story of his 1963 shark attack and it was quite harrowing how he barely escaped death. His story is one of survival and then facing your biggest fears.  It most certainly bears repeating and although he does discuss the attack in the interview, here is his first hand account as posted on his website,
On the 8th of December 1963, Rodney was defending his title in a spearfishing competition off Aldinga Beach, 65km south of Adelaide, South Australia. The waters were clear and Rodney was just about to catch a fish in about 20m of water when he felt a thump on his left side and found himself in the mouth of a great white shark. Rodney clawed at the sharks head and eyes and, when the shark released its grip, he thrust his right arm out to defend himself only to plunge it into the shark's mouth, slicing the flesh from his hand and forearm. Instinctively, he wrapped his arms and legs around the shark's body to stop it from getting hold of him again but his need for air saw him release and kick for the surface. 
"There, I gratefully gasped one deep breath, then looked down through the water. This was the most terrifying, unforgettable moment of all. My body floated in a red sea and as I looked down through that bloody water, surging upwards through the reddish haze was an open set of jaws with razor-sharp teeth. The shark was coming back to eat me". 
After kicking at the shark, it turned its attention to the fish float, swallowing both the fish and the float, still attached to Rodney's waist. Rodney was dragged back under, spinning uncontrollably as he was dragged deeper and deeper. Just when his breath was running out, the rope snapped and Rodney kicked for the surface.

He was dragged into a nearby boat and carried ashore before being rushed to the nearest hospital. Rodney's abdomen was fully exposed and all ribs were broken on his left side. 
His diaphragm was punctured, lung ripped open, scapula was pierced, spleen was uncovered, the main artery from his heart was exposed. The tendons, fingers and thumb in his right hand were all cut, and to this day he still has part of a Great White tooth embedded in his wrist. He was minutes away from his veins collapsing due to the loss of large amounts of blood. Over 360 stitches were required to sew him up.
Rodney thanks the wonderful work of his surgeon Dr. Justin Miller for the wonderful job in fitting all the pieces back together like a jigsaw puzzle.

For another noteworthy interview, check out ABC News Australia where reporter Leah MacLennan recently accompanied Rodney Fox to the waters off Neptune Island to experience first hand the great whites and find out how his relationship with them has turned from hate to love. "50 years on Rodney Fox reflects on a life changing attack"