On the morning of Feb 18, not long after daybreak, at a notoriously sharky stretch of Belongil Beach, near Byron Bay, 41-year-old Sam Edwardes paddled out, sat on his board, and was attacked by a juvenile Great White before he’d caught a wave. 

“As soon as my mate got out the back he sat up on his board and instantly a shark smashed from underneath … knocking him clean off his board,” a friend of the victim and witness, Dane Davidson, told The New Daily

“There was a lot of splashing and smashing and he started screaming,” he said. 

With Dane’s help, Sam was able to paddle to shore where the full extent of his injuries were revealed. 

“We didn’t realise until we were on the beach that there was a big chunk taken out of his leg so there was a lot of blood,” said Dane. 

“I was freaking.”

“When I heard the screams he was making in the water and then I saw a chunk of his board floating off, that’s when I realised it was pretty bad.”

Once on the beach, several bystanders rushed to apply a torniquet to Sam’s leg as he threatened to lose consciousness. 

“He was conscious but … his eyes were drifting around a bit. He seemed a bit dizzy,” said Dane.

He was flown by helicopter to Gold Coast Hospital in a critical condition where four and half hours of surgery saved his life. 

(Although photos of the gruesome consequences of the attack recently emerged, the editor deemed them too graphic and disturbing to be displayed)  

Sam had been attacked by a juvenile Great White, a species of shark responsible for between a third and one half of shark attacks worldwide. They are known to engage prey with a “sample bite” before deciding whether to finish the job, though at an average weight of between 680 and 1100 kilograms, a sample bite is still enough to kill. 

Great White sharks have been protected in Australia since 1999 despite an absence of scientific data on population numbers. Only last year did the CSIRO carry out its first study into the numbers of Great White sharks in Australasian waters using a “world-first genetic analysis” that relied on what Australian Geographic calls the “highly novel” method of close-kin mark-recapture, which was first developed to monitor southern bluefin tuna.

Scientists were able to identify 750 adult Great Whites (range 470 - 1030) and 5460 juveniles (range 2909 - 12 802) off Australian’s eastern seaboard and 1460 adults (range 760-2250) off the southern-western region though, importantly, no data on the juvenile population has been provided yet.

Australia has had the highest incidence of fatal shark attacks in the world in the last 30 years with the beaches around Byron Bay the most dangerous, witnessing 27 attacks, three of which have been fatal, in that period.  

The attack by a juvenile on Sam Edwardes occurred despite the NSW State government’s $16 million shark management strategy, implemented in response to a spate of attacks along the North Coast of NSW in 2015. The strategy includes increased aerial surveillance and the use of “smart” drumlines to bait and capture sharks, which are then relocated. 

An hour further north, across the Queensland border, drum-lines have been used to catch sharks at selected beaches since 1962 with only one fatal shark attack recorded.

A Gofundme page has been set up for Edwardes, who is a special needs teacher, to help him meet mounting medical and rehabilitation costs and restart his life.