One of the most powerful instincts of humanity is survival, which often triggers a fight-or-flight response, injecting a rush of energy and adrenaline into those attempting to overcome deadly situations. Numerous stories of superhuman strength, endurance and tolerance of pain outline the amazing feats that enable humans to survive lethal extremes.
Few events strike fear into hearts like the vision of a giant shark with its cavernous mouth dislocated, revealing dozens of razor-sharp teeth tinted pink from killing. Marine predators are especially worrisome because people have not evolved to traverse the ocean with the same efficiency of fish and dolphins. On land, human ingenuity gives us a chance against many of the top predators, but in water, people are like fish in barrels.
As medical treatment, lifeguard training and awareness programs warning people of the dangers of shark improve, fewer and fewer victims of shark attacks pass away, greatly reducing the number of people killed over the past century, despite an overall increase of incidents. The United States, in particular off the Florida coast, witnesses the greatest number of shark attacks in the world, followed by Australia; however, even the Russian coast has witnessed the horror of these predators. Perhaps the most fascinating fact about survivors are the surprising number of shark attack victims who end up working for organizations that focus on shark conservation.
**Warning: Graphic Content**
15 Wetsuit Prevents Insides From Spilling Out
While defending his title as spearfishing champion of Australia, Rodney Fox suffered one of the most devastating shark attacks ever survived, requiring 554 stitches to close massive gashes along his chest and right arm. Somehow, his wetsuit essentially limited the damage to a punctured lung and massive bleeding instead of his insides simply spilling into the water.
After rehabilitation and conquering his understandable fear of the predator, he used his fame as the world's most incredible shark survivor to pioneer the use of metal cages to observe sharks while educating the public and spearheading conservation efforts. He's also worked as a marine filmmaker, including consulting with Steven Spielberg in the creation of Jaws.
14 History's First Survivor of a Shark Attack
Way back in 1749, during a trading mission to Havana, Cuba, Brook Watson, only 14 years-old, was a crew member taking a quick dip into the harbour. He ended up getting attacked twice and his shipmates had to drag him out to save his life. His foot was missing and later his entire leg was surgically removed, showing that even back in the 1700s, Cuba had surprisingly decent health care.
Brook ended up becoming the Lord Mayor of London and a member of parliament. One of the witnesses of the attack was John Singleton Copley, one of the United States' finest painters, who captured the scene in vivid detail in a classic painting.
13 The Vibrations of a Chewing Shark
As a long-distance swimmer, Steven Robles was comfortable with different bodies of water, having gathered plenty of experience during his marathon aquatic sessions. However, while on Manhattan Beach, California, he ended up in the middle of a situation that he's never previously faced.
After a hook from a fishing rod pissed off a shark, it turned to Robles for revenge, suddenly lunging after Steven when the two locked gaze in the water. "I could feel the vibration of this entire shark gnawing into my skin," he said. " You could feel the whole body shaking as it's digging into my torso."
The shark left Steven when he pried the predator's nose and swum back to shore. Before the attack, he was planning on another long-distance swim, but now he admits he may never traverse open water again.
12 Shark Joust
The lionfish is an invasive aquatic species that has been killing off native fish, flourishing because they have no natural predators. Jason Dimitri was hunting them in the Western Caribbean Sea in an effort to protect the reef, tracking them 70 feet underwater to remove them from hiding spaces.
A shark must have caught the scent of dead lionfish and sensed Jason thrashing around because the diver suddenly noticed he was being stalked in a classic case of the hunter becoming prey. He uploaded his GoPro footage on YouTube, which shows Jason using a pointy rod to jab at the shark's face mercilessly, eventually repelling the beast after a few attempts to snack on the diver.
11 Man Fends Off Attack Against His Three Sons
Sharks can be rude jerks, showing up uninvited to feed when people are just trying to have a good time in the water. Kaleo Roberson was enjoying the surf with his three kids when a shark appeared a few feet away, jaw open with teeth ready to gnash.
The 14-foot tiger shark bit at the board Kaleo used to distance himself from the shark. He began punching and kicking the predator and it responded by circling the area, ready to launch another attack. Kaleo and friend John Patao helped escort the kids safely on shore, eventually making it back safe. A huge chunk was bitten out of the board but, thankfully, no one was hurt.
10 The Brave Rescue While the Shocked Gawk
A Californian high school teacher on a Maui beach ended up running to the rescue of a 20 year-old German visitor, who released a blood curdling scream while she was attacked about 100 meters from shore. Rick Moore was only about ten feet away when the water around her turned from white to red.
A shark had taken one of her arms and Rick was her only hope of survival. He swam her back to shore through choppy waters, becoming a potential target in the process as the young woman was bleeding out and slowly losing consciousness. Rick cried out to God and received a burst of strength, allowing him to get her safely on shore, where his friend, Nicholas Grisaffi, was waiting to apply CPR. "Pretty much everybody was out of control except me and Rick. If we're not there, she's not saved. Nobody did a thing," Grisaffi said. "I just can't get the screaming out of my head. The arm didn't bother me. At our age, we've seen a lot."
9 Shark Eats His Foot; He Decides to Advocate for Sharks
Mike Coots was accosted by a shark at the age of 17, remembering that the predator attacked "like a submarine". The usual tell-tale sign of a fin protruding through water was absent. Instead, the tiger shark decided to rise from beneath Mike, engulfing his leg in teeth before he could respond.
He remembers getting a "really creepy feeling" before adrenaline kicked in. As the shark shook his leg, Mike tried to pry open the jaws, before failing and choose to punch the shark with his left fist instead. The shark was stunned enough for Mike to get away. As he swam to safety, he realized that his foot was neatly severed. Now, he works with the Pew Environment Group to advocate for these predators, lobbying for the ban of shark fin sales in the United States.
8 Sacrifices Leg to Save Brother; Becomes Shark Conservationist
Achmat Hassiem and his brother were in the South African surf, performing some training duties with a life guard when Achmat saw a dark triangle approaching his brother underwater. Achmat stuck his head under to identify the shadow, which turned out be a 16-foot great white shark, planning to turn his brother into a meal. At the time, his brother was doing a dead man float in the water, unaware of what was transpiring.
Bravely, Achmat started splashing around to attract attention away from his brother and towards himself. As the lifeguards got his brother out of the water, Achmat saw the great white change course and dive into a vertical attack pattern. He tried to mount the shark, but realized that his leg was already stuck in its massive mouth.
The great white dragged Achmat underwater, freeing the brave soul only after severing his right leg. Once he healed from the ordeal, he decided to become an athlete, winning a medal at the London Paralympics. Achmat is now a shark conservationist: "Resulting from the shark attack, I've managed to go around the world, see difference countries, and meet different people," Achmat said. "Hey, all of this stemming from this shark attack, somehow I have to give back to sharks."
7 The First Double Great White Shark Attack
While enjoying the surf on an isolated beach in Western Australia, close to the town of Esperance, Sean Pollard felt that he collided with a large fish. Turns out it was a great white shark. Shortly after, the shark removed a chunk from his leg after the beast tossed Sean's surf board with its nose.
As Sean attempted to escape without whipping the shark into a frenzy, the great white went in for the kill:
“I spun around to try and face it. It just moved so quick. That’s when it come up out of the water, I didn’t even see its teeth. It took me like across, and its eye was right there in front of me. Its eye was the blackest black I’d ever seen, and that’s just a vision that’s burnt into my mind. I can’t get it out, just this cover going over its eye as it bit down on me.”
After being dragged underwater, Sean emerged with his forearm ripped off, surrounded by blood. Incredibly, another great white shark decided to start harassing the surfer, making it the first known double great white attack. Eventually, Sean made it back to shore, making him the first survivor of a double great white shark attack.
6 Shark Attack Victim Becomes One-Armed Surfing Champ
Bethany Hamilton is a portrait of persistence and determination, rebounding from a devastating shark attack to become one of the best surfers on the planet. When she was only 13, she survived an assault that resulted in her losing her arm.
A mere three weeks later, she returned to the ocean on her surfboard, overcoming her injury and whatever trepidations that might occur when one loses an arm to a shark. Determined to not let it define her, she worked relentlessly to adapt to her new circumstances, eventually becoming a surfing champion. Her latest acts of awesome have her riding atop wicked waves and frolicking in the ocean while six months pregnant. Recently, she and her husband welcomed their new child, Tobias, into the world.
5 Jon Hines: Sharkpuncher
He was enjoying the Western Australian coast one moment, and the next he was in a struggle for his life against a great white. Jon Hines refused to give up, feeding the shark a flurry of fists to its face while sticking his hand in the gills of the beast to disrupt its killing mojo.
Jeff Goulden, a local surfing legend, swam out to help Jon get back to shore in the midst of the attack. Hines had severe damage to his left arm and serious abdominal injuries. Beachgoers did what they could to comfort him before an hour-and-a-half drive across bumpy, unpaved roads that transferred him to an ambulance, which drove him another 85 miles to the nearest hospital.
4 Shark Detests Surfing, Knocks Man Off Board
Kevin Swanson was surfing on the California coast when a shark decided to drag him off his surf board and pull him underneath. When he resurfaced, he yelled "Shark" before putting some distance between him and his predator. Thankfully, Kevin managed to get back onto shore while applying a tourniquet to the serious wounds he suffered.
Mike Jones, a bystander who filmed the aftermath, recorded Andrew Walsh commenting that Kevin was full of adrenaline, rocketing out of the water to escape the beast. Reports suggest that Kevin, a 50-something surfer, planned to hit the waves again as soon as possible.
3 "Help - Shark Attack!"; "No, You're Just Drunk"
Polina and Denis Udovenko were enjoying a comping trip around Telyakovsky Bay, on the eastern portion of Russia's vast coast along the Pacific, when Denis felt something bite into his hand. He yelled to his wife to get on shore just before a shark grabbed his wrist and dragged him underneath.
Sergey Torokhov and Kirill Zenkov happened to be nearby, gathering firewood on their boat when they heard Polina's cry for help. After rescuing Denis, they called the police and an ambulance, requesting a helicopter to evacuate Denis. The person on the other end of the line dismissed Kirill, saying, "you're drunk; there are no sharks in the area."
Instead it was up to Sergey and Kirill to navigate forty miles of bumpy road just to get to an ambulance. The two heroes of this tale ended up saving Denis' life. When he woke in the hospital and saw his wife Polina, he said, "I'm so happy nothing has happened to you."
2 Saved by Jesus
Shannon Ainslie was in the waters at Nahoon Reef off the coast of South Africa, paddling to catch a wave, when a pair of great whites executed a pincer maneuver, attacking him from both sides. One of the sharks bumped him off the board and dragged him by his hand underwater while the other shark targeted Shannon's head and chest.
Oddly enough, the second shark missed and the other just kind of stopped and stared back at Shannon for a few moments before resuming the attack. With his fingers hanging off his hand, the sharks suddenly stopped and Shannon was able to get back on the board, although the waters suddenly became flat and lifeless.
He prayed to Jesus, which resulted in him losing all his fear and the ocean suddenly creating a wave that ushered him back on shore. Six weeks later, he was back surfing on a beach nearby, having conquered his fear of sharks by getting bitten by one.
1 Saved By Dolphins
While surfing on the coast of Monterey, California, Todd Endis was attacked by a huge great white shark that peeled the skin off his back and chomped his right leg to the bone. Only his surfboard prevented the shark from biting him clean in half and scrambling his internal organs.
As the great white went in for the kill, a pod of bottle-nose dolphins saved the day. They protected Todd by forming a protective ring, giving him enough time to get on the board and escape to shore. When he made it back to land, Brian Simpson provided first aid, preventing additional bleeding as Todd became pale from loss of blood. Todd survived, and after a variety of procedures he returned to the water without any malice against the shark: "We're in his realm, not the other way around."