An 11-foot great white shark stole a diver’s fin in Australia January 13.
Callum Stewart, Coralie Fleming and Mitchell Scanlan-Bloor traveled to Wollongong’s Five Islands in New South Wales to photograph underwater sea life.
The trio anchored their boat and swam toward the southeast side of Martin Island just after 9 a.m.
Stewart told Tracking Sharks the group was in the water for around two minutes, roughly 33 yards (30m) from their boat when he dove down to about 16 feet.
The 28-year-old felt a blow that bumped him toward the surface as something brushed against his left arm.
“I turned around to have a look and that’s when I saw it was a shark,” Mr. Stewart told the Illawarra Mercury.
“It did a full 180-degree turn and came back to look at me. That’s probably the point I realised I might be in trouble.
“The most amazing memory I have is looking this thing dead in the eye, and wondering if that was the last thing I’m going to see. I was kind of caught up in the beauty of it.
“I realised later it had my fin in its mouth.”
Fleming and her boyfriend Mitchell Scanlan-Bloor were only a few feet away when the shark brushed against Stewart and stole his freediving fin.
“It [the shark] opened its massive mouth and as it closed its mouth, it kind of ripped down as it went to swim away,” she said. “There was one metre [missing] off Callum’s body. I was horrified then I realised it was just the fin.
“We’re just lucky that it was an investigatory bite and didn’t involve any missing limbs.”
The three quickly swam toward the rocky shore. In their haste to exit the water, Fleming lost both of her fins, but was able to climb up on the rocks and help the others out of the water.
“Once we got back on the boat I was pretty upset and a little bit shocked, but it’s a really beautiful encounter with one of our most revered apex predators. It’s this really weird combination of being terrified, but also completely in awe,” she said.
Department of Primary Industries head shark researcher Dr. Vic Peddemors reviewed the information and doesn’t think the shark was in attack mode.
“I didn’t get the impression it came hurtling at Callum,” he said.
“If it had, it would have pushed him right out of the water with a shark of that size, and it wouldn’t have just been his fin that was missing.”
In addition, he said swimming near seals can increase the likelihood of a shark encounter.
“But that said, there are hundreds of people who dive with seals and rarely do they encounter a shark, let alone have an incident where the shark interacts with them,” he said.
Mitchell Scanlan-Bloor was able to snap a three-shot burst of the estimated 11-foot shark as it snatched Stewart’s fin.
“The shark circled back to look at what it had just tried to eat. Upon realising its mistake, she immediately lost interest and swam away,” he said in an email.
The group wanted to make sure other ocean goers in the area were aware of the interaction and shared the incident on the shark-reporting app Dorsal.
Stewart ended up with scratches and several punctures to his wetsuit that he attributes to his exit on rocks.
He also has a bruise on his buttock, which he believes was caused by the shark’s bump.
“A situation like this, while rare, is still a possibility while in the ocean,” he said in an email.
“Sharks play such a significant role in the marine ecosystem and their presence in the ocean should always be respected.”
There have been a total of 3 shark attack bites* in 2018, 0 of which were fatal*; 0 were reported in the US, with 0 occurring in Florida and 0 in Hawaii. Two have been reported in Australia, none of which was fatal.
All locations have been marked on the 2018 Shark Attack Bites Tracking Map.
*One with no injury.