What It's Like to Be Attacked by a Shark

Anyone who’s ever seen Jaws has probably had a few days where they were afraid of the ocean – and these shark attack  night just bring that fear surging back. One or two die from sharks every year, and it’s not a pretty way to go. Sharks sometimes just seem to decide that we need to be killed, and they’re kind of flawless at doing just that. Of course, maybe you’re the morose sort of person who wonders what it’s like to be attacked by a shark. The moment of terror, the pain, the panic… well, lucky you, because we’re going to tell you all about what being killed by a shark is like. 
So, when it comes to shark attack death facts, things can seem kind of scary. How do you escape? What are the odds of it happening to you? Rest assured shark attacks are very rare, and it’s even less likely that you’ll die from one. That still doesn’t make the prospect of an gnawing on your flesh any less terrifying. 

As a final warning, some of the subjects discussed here are pretty graphic, so this isn’t for those with weak stomachs. But hey, if you’ve seen any shark attack ever, you can probably handle it. Just don’t plan on going to the beach anytime soon. 

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Contrary to popular belief, sharks are actually not mindless killing machines. Sharks have particular tastes, and while blood makes them a little nuts, their regular prey is seals, sea lions, fish, and pretty much anything but humans. The fact is, we don’t taste good, and neither do our wetsuits, our surfboards, or our diving gear, so it’s very likely that if a shark bites you, it won’t go back for seconds. They just give you an initial bite because they’re confused. It’s even less likely that the shark will actually try to eat you, which is why most deaths from shark attacks happen back on shore or in the hospital.

It’ll All Start with a Little Nudge

Before a shark bites, it tends to check out what exactly it’s biting first. So, if you’re on a surf board, you might feel a little bump from their nose. If you’re swimming, you might feel something brush up against your legs. In some cases, it feels more like a sudden impact, even if there’s no initial bite, sometimes hard enough to knock you off a surfboard. Sometimes one little nudge is nothing to panic about, but unfortunately, once you feel a second nudge, it’s usually too late to do much about it. The shark has decided you’re potentially , and it has decided it’s time to take a bite to see how you taste.

When You Start Bleeding, They’ll Start Sniffing

So, if you’re not a shark’s ideal prey, why are they targeting you exactly? It’s a common myth that a shark can smell one drop of blood from miles away, but it is a fact that blood drives these guys nuts. If they’re hungry, and only if they’re hungry, even a little blood in their near vicinity can attract them, because it indicates that there may be a wounded or dead animal in the water.
So, if you’ve got even a paper cut, or if you’re on your period, that blood can make you a little more than other non-bleeding . In short, blood doesn’t make them hungry, but if you’re bleeding, you better hope there are no already-hungry sharks nearby.

They Might Just Be Trying to Show You Who’s Boss

Of course, there’s another reason a shark might be trying to get you in its mouth. Some scientists believe that sharks will gently bite other animals as a show of dominance, rather than trying to eat them. In other words, the shark perceives you as a threat or as another shark trying to cut in on its turf, and is trying to tell you to get lost. Those kinds of bites aren’t even really meant to kill, just to let you know they’re there. Unfortunately for us, sharks have giant scary many-toothed mouths, and even a little bite can do some serious damage. So even if a shark doesn’t mean to kill you, there’s a good chance they will anyway.
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You Won’t See It Coming, But Others Probably Will

According to several people who have been bitten by sharks, they never knew there was a shark near them until they were being attacked. You see, sharks are actually very stealthy killers, and they don’t like to be seen before they decide to go in for the attack. One attack victim from 2015, Hunter Treschl, said it happened like this:
“I didn’t see it coming. I was just in about waist-deep water, playing with my cousin … and felt this kind of hit on my left leg … like it was a big fish coming near you or something. Then it just kind of hit my arm. That was the first I saw it, when it was biting up my left arm.”
He lost his arm in the attack. However, sharks that can kill tend to be pretty large. This means that those far away from you will likely see a shape in the water way before you do. In other words, if you see a lot of horrified people swimming away from you, it either means someone peed in the ocean or there’s a shark out to get you.

You’ll Feel Like You’ve Been Hit By a Truck

A shark that’s big enough to probably kill you is going to be moving pretty fast when it bites you. In fact, one thing it will do is throw its body weight at you, both to stun and confuse you and also to sink their teeth in better. So when you finally do get bit by a shark, you’ll know it, and you might feel the impact more than the teeth. One swimmer in South Maui who was bitten by a shark in 2016 talked about the experience to the people trying to help him:
“He said, ‘It felt like a boat hit me. He was really a trooper. He wasn’t screaming,” reported TJ McGuire, one of the first responders after the attack.
In other words, prepare to be in pain, confused, and unsure of what just hit you. But be assured, it wasn’t a boat. Sharks can kill you much more effectively than a boat.

You’re Going Underwater, Even if You Punch Them in the Nose

Once a shark gets ahold of you, they’re going to do anything in their power to make sure you’re too tired, confused, and frantic to fight back or get away. This is a basic predatory instinct for them. One thing they will most likely do is to drag you down. Remember, you’re fighting a shark here, so if they decide you’re going underwater with them, then there’s not much you can do about it. Some say that, when this happens, you should just punch the shark in the nose, but that’s wildly inaccurate. Seriously, punching something underwater? Not easy. However, if you have the opportunity to try to poke it in the eye, that sometimes will make them let go of you.
If you resurface at all, rest assured that your harrowing trials aren’t over yet.

You May Hear Your Bones Breaking

So, sharks have really strong jaws. Like, crazy strong. Scientists have estimated that a great white can exert 4,000 psi with a single bite, though it’s never been properly tested. Because of that, when a shark bites you, it’s going to do two things: try to gnaw a piece off of you, and bite down as hard as it possibly can. One surfer, Kenny Doudt, who was attacked by a shark and barely survived, knows exactly how that feels first-hand:
“I was not yet fully aware of what was happening. I felt tremendous pressure on my chest and heard ribs snapping and the crunching of the underside on my board as it (the shark) turned out to sea. I felt totally helpless.”
So, imagine feeling your body being crushed and cut at the same time, and imagine feeling too confused and helpless to do anything about it. That’s what it’s like to be bitten by a shark.
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Those Who Try to Rescue You Are Likely to Be Attacked Themselves

So, let’s say you’re a shark. You’ve got this seal (or so you think) that you’re about to chow down on, you’ve already mostly disabled it, and you’re ready for that well-earned meal. All of a sudden, another seal (or some such creature) steps in and tries to drag your dinner away! What are you to do?
Well, of course, you’re going to attack the thing stealing your kill! That is a serious problem for rescuers in the water during shark attacks. Not only does the shark see your rescuer as another prey animal, but it is definitely willing to defend its kill, and that means killing your would-be savior. If you’re lucky, the shark might just swim between you and your rescuer as a sign to say “back off” rather than simply attacking them.

Other Sharks Will Come and Try to Join the Fun

Remember how hungry sharks really dig the scent of blood? Well, when you’re bitten by a shark, you bleed. A lot. So other hungry sharks in the area are going to get a whiff of your plasma, cells, and platelets as they rapidly leave your body and are suddenly going to be very interested in coming by to check if there are any leftovers. Sharks have no problem chomping down on a severed limb while another shark gets the main kill, so within minutes, you might spot more than one shark in the water around where you’re being attacked.
In what is known as one of the worst shark attacks in history, the crew of the USS Indianapolis came up against this in the worst possible way. After their ship went down, there were a lot of injured men in the water, and that meant blood everywhere. Hungry sharks in the area smelled this and came out in force. They swarmed groups of survivors waiting for rescue and began to pick off the injured one by one. By the time help arrived, sharks had killed possibly over 100 men.

You’re Likely Going to Lose a Limb

When a shark bites, they don’t just clamp down. They like to bite and tear, trying to take a huge chunk of flesh out of you in order to eat. Sometimes this means you lose a hunk of flesh, but more likely they’ll have caught ahold of one of your legs or arms. Given the strength of a shark’s jaws, that means that your arm or leg is leaving with a shark today, and it’ll happen in seconds.
A 16-year-old who was attacked and maimed by a shark in June 2015 said that he didn’t see the shark coming until it was actually biting him.
“…the shark bit my arm – off. That was the first time I saw it, when it was biting up my left arm,” Hunter Treschl told reporters.
Seconds later, the shark swam away with said arm, and that was that. His life was saved, but in the blink of an eye, he lost a limb to a hungry predator.

Even if the Shark Lets Go, It Might Come Around Again

If a shark hasn’t given up on eating you after realizing that you’re not a seal, then you’re well and truly screwed. Assuming the shark lets you go at all before you die, you might think you have a chance to swim to shore or reach out for help, but the moment the shark releases you, it’s probably just rounding for another attack.
In 2015, a 10-year-old boy was saved from the water in Florida after he was attacked by a shark. What’s particularly noteworthy about this is that the boy had at least two distinct bite marks on his leg. This means that the shark attacked not once, but twice. The kid recovered, but if a bigger, hungrier shark goes for you, you probably won’t be so lucky.

Thrashing to Get Away Will Only Make It Worse

Your initial instinct in trying to get away from this attack is probably to fight back, swim vigorously, and thrash about to get attention from potential help. Well, that’s not always going to help. Fighting back might be your only choice if you’re mid-bite, as is swimming away if you’re not, but those behaviors signal to the shark, as well as other nearby sharks, that you’re injured, panicking, and ripe for the biting.
Instead, you can try calm movements, nothing sudden or splashy. Of course, that advice is all well and good when you’re sitting in front of a computer screen, but if you’re missing a foot, in pain, and scared, remaining calm and not thrashing is probably going to be nearly impossible.
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Your Body Temperature Is Going to Drop

The sort of good news here is that sharks rarely actually consume people. In most attacks, several bites are the worst of it, and maybe some missing limbs, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. After you’re bitten, you’re going to be bleeding, you might go into shock, and you’re in a genuinely terrible spot for that to happen. Seeing as you’re in water that’s most likely somewhat cold, your body temperature is going to start to drop. Part of that is going to be the blood loss, but many shark attack victims quickly develop hypothermia, which makes the chances that you’ll die a whole lot higher. But sometimes hypothermia can work to your advantage: cold temperatures help your blood clot faster, and when every drop counts, hypothermia can actually save your life.

You’re Probably Going to Start Bleeding Out

Most shark attack victims don’t die from blunt-force trauma, spinal injury, or drowning. Instead, they die from exsanguination, also known as bleeding to death. And all it takes to do that is a single bite. After you’re bitten, especially if you’ve lost a limb, you’re going to have damaged arteries, bones, and maybe even internal organs. Even if you’re not missing a limb, many shark bites are several inches deep, and can span massive areas on your body. Because of that, you’re going to start bleeding a lot, and fast. You might not feel it because you’re in shock from being attacked by a frickin’ shark, but chances are you’ll pretty quickly be feeling woozy. At that point, you have to hope that whoever rescues you knows that they need to apply pressure to your wounds – and fast.

It Could Take Minutes to Get You to Shore

Minutes doesn’t sound like such a long time, but it’s a very long time when you’re bleeding out in the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks. Assuming your rescuers can get to you, assuming more sharks don’t come in for the kill, assuming you’re not dragged underwater again, and assuming you’re still alive when they reach you, many times the people trying to help are just swimmers. This means they have to swim you all the way back to shore. If you’re lucky, there might be a boat or a jet-ski in the vicinity, but even then, it might seem like an eternity.
If you’re very lucky, you might be able to swim some of the way yourself, but after you’re back on land, it could still take you half an hour or more to even get to the hospital! And that’s plenty of time to die.

If You Make it to The Hospital, You Could Still Die of Infeciton

So, let us say you survived the incident. You didn’t bleed out, the shark didn’t crush you, you didn’t drown, and the shock didn’t kill you. Well, there’s still one more way a shark attack can take your life. As far as animal bites go, shark bites are particularly disgusting. The teeth sink deep, there are tons of bacteria in their mouths, and your wound is exposed to all the exciting contaminants in the ocean. In short, a shark bite is a perfect breeding ground for infections.
In fact, scientists are still working on better antibiotics to keep serious infections from taking down shark attack victims after the fact. So, next time you go to the beach, maybe remember to bring some Bactine or rubbing alcohol with you. You might just need it.