The Shark Blotter

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Shark Alley, August 1998

The Shark Blotter

When man meets fish
By Mike Grudowski

More people perish each year, it's been said, from coconuts falling on their heads than from shark attacks. These luckless victims probably would've preferred to take their chances with the fruit.

Wednesday, March 23, 1994, South Pacific Ocean:
"I felt something grab my leg and jerk me," recalled Heather Boswell, a 19-year-old Seattleite who had signed on for a six-month term working in the galley of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research ship Discoverer. Boswell and several of her shipmates were taking a break, swimming in balmy waters some 300 miles east of Easter Island. What she believes was a great white shark first chomped the legs of a seaman swimming nearby, opening wounds that would require more than 50 stitches; as it turned out, he got off easy. Quickly grabbing first Boswell's right leg and then her left, the shark pulled her under, shaking her violently like a dog with a rag doll. When the fish resurfaced, two of Boswell's colleagues in a skiff grabbed her arms while another beat the shark with a stick. Boswell felt her left leg pop. "I thought it was my hip dislocating," she said. Only when the crew pulled her up into the boat did she look down and realize that her leg now ended at midthigh. The shark then headed for another person dangling in the water from a ladder, but shots fired by crewmen on the ship evidently drove it away.

Sunday, March 3, 1985, Port Lincoln, South Australia:
"Mrs. Durdin was taken by the shark while diving for scallops on Sunday afternoon," the announced dryly, as if mentioning her appearance in a new spring ensemble at the local cotillion. Shirley Ann Durdin, a 33-year-old housewife and mother of four, had recently moved with her family back to the bay town of Port Lincoln because allergies prevented her husband, Barry, from working any longer at their farm in the town of Karkoo. While she scanned the bay bottom in six-foot-deep water about 150 yards out, her husband, three young daughters, and son watched from shore. With no warning, a great white shark that eyewitnesses estimated at 19 feet long attacked her, tore her in two, and, all evidence suggests, devoured her. Friends held a distraught Barry Durdin down to prevent him from jumping into the water after his wife, while he hysterically kept repeating, "She's gone, she's gone." In the days that followed, authorities searched the shoreline for remains, but found only a single swim fin.

Thursday, February 2, 1989, Piombino, Italy:
In an unseasonably temperate winter throughout Italy, priests on Sardinia prayed for rain and the Mediterranean remained warm enough that species not usually spotted so far north so early in the year were lurking off Tuscany. Luciano Costanzo, a 47-year-old scuba diver, went out spearfishing with his 19-year-old son and a friend one mile off the coast, near the island of Elba, not knowing that he would soon encounter a shark, believed to be a great white and measuring either "20 feet long" (according to the Associated Press), "at least 22 feet" (Reuters), or "25 feet" (London's somewhat excitable From a depth of about 75 feet, Costanzo suddenly surfaced, screamed, "Shark!" and lunged for the boat but was jerked back below before he could reach it. The shark then leapt out of the water twice, its jaws clamped around Costanzo's waist, before vanishing — and notching the Mediterranean's first reported shark attack in nearly three decades. "I clearly saw my father in the mouth of the shark," his son, Gianluca, later said. "The water became red with my father's blood." Three days later, a dive team searching with an underwater camera found only flippers, a weight belt, and two scuba tanks with tooth marks in them.

Monday, July 21, 1997, Transkei Coast, South Africa:
Mark Penches was six months into the trip of a lifetime, having quit his job for an epic round of globe-hopping and adventure travel. Already the 25-year-old Sydney resident had surfed in Bali, Portugal, and Greece; hiked in Nepal; toured North Africa; and visited relatives in Scotland before hooking up with two fellow surfers at Breezy Point, a renowned beach on the rugged Eastern Cape, near Umtata. They spent the morning surfing, took a lunch break, and then the others paused to wax their boards. But Penches headed right back out. After paddling a couple of hundred yards, he had started to ride a wave back in when his board suddenly flipped out from under him and he disappeared in the surf. "Before Terry or I could get back out there," said Clyde Crawford, an Australian friend, "we heard these screams. We heard a woman shouting, 'Shark! Shark!' There was nothing we could do." Experts later guessed that the culprit was either a great white, a tiger, or a Zambezi (also known as a bull shark). Twenty minutes later, one of Penches's arms floated ashore. Later still, the remains of a leg washed up farther down the beach, reportedly still attached to the surfboard's leash.

Thursday, April 16, 1998, Florida Keys:
Kevin Morrison, a 16-year-old from Rockford, Illinois, received a hearty spring-break welcome from local fauna while scuba diving with his father off the Keys near Marathon. Seeing a three-foot-long nurse shark swimming past him, young Kevin thought it would be neat to grab a shark by its tail, so he did. Instantly, the shark whipped around, sank its teeth into the boy's chest, and refused to let go — even after he was pulled out of the water. The Coast Guard rushed Kevin to Fishermen's Hospital, with the fish still attached. "His poor, sad little gills were still pumping," said Kathleen Starkey, an emergency room nurse. Doctors had to split the shark's spine to get its jaw to unclench. The Morrisons left the Keys quickly after Kevin was treated and released; the shark passed away unmourned.

Illustrations by Gary Baseman

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