Beaches in New South Wales, Australia were closed after a surfer was seriously injured in a shark attack Friday. The 29-year-old surfer, identified only by his first name of Luke, was attacked by a bull shark while paddling on his board at 10:45 am (AEDT) at Diamond Head, south of Port Macquarie. The shark’s species will be confirmed when marine biologists identify the tooth that was pulled from the remains of the young man’s surfboard.
Bull sharks are notoriously aggressive, often attacking any animal that invades its territory. They prefer shallow water, and this makes the bull shark highly dangerous to human beings. They are one of four species of shark most likely to attack humans, along with the tiger shark, oceanic whitetip, and great white shark.
The victim, who is an experienced surfer and familiar with marine life, identified his attacker as an adult bull shark of about two meters in length. Prior to the attack, Luke noticed a pod of dolphins move through the waves at high speed, perhaps fleeing a marauding shark that was on the hunt for food.
A few minutes after the dolphins left the area, while Luke was waiting for the next set of waves, he was attacked without warning by the shark. He received a serious slashing wound to his right thigh and groin area. As Luke tried to push the shark away, his hand entered the shark’s mouth, and he lost his index finger and part of another finger on his left hand.
The injured surfer was able to paddle to the beach under his own power, protected by his courageous fellow surfers. Once ashore, Luke’s friends used the ankle ropes from their surfboards to make a tourniquet and stopped the profuse bleeding from his thigh. According to the paramedics who arrived on the scene, the quick thinking of his friends saved Luke’s life.
While Luke’s friends assisted him on the beach, one of the surfers called the emergency services. Paramedics arrived quickly by Westpac Rescue Helicopter, stabilized the victim, and transported him by chopper to Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital in serious but stable condition. The victim’s wife was allowed to accompany him on the flight to the hospital.
Luke was camping at the Diamond Beach Holiday Park with friends and family. They chose the beach for a Christmas surfing holiday due to the excellent conditions and scenic, remote location. Diamond Head is a popular spot among surfers due the structure of the surrounding area, which protects the beach from unfavorable north-easterly winds.
After the attack, beaches from Crowdy Head north to Camden Haven were closed. The beaches will reopen in 24 hours provided there are no more shark sightings. According to a local resident, she could not recall one shark attack in the area in the last decade.
Diamond Head is an unpatrolled beach and therefore lacks regular shark spotters and onsite paramedics. If Luke had not been surfing with good friends who didn’t panic and quickly applied first aid, he might not have survived the attack.
As the young surfer recuperated in the hospital, his family sent a message of appreciation to everyone involved in saving Luke’s life:
“The family express their gratitude to all those who assisted at the beach, as well as the emergency personnel who gave such rapid assistance.”
John West of the Taronga Conservation Society Australia added some sound advice for Australian surfers:
“No one beach is any more likely to be dangerous than any other. The best prevention is common-sense related to where you swim and what activities you undertake whilst in the water and be aware of what may invite or provoke an attack.”