Can going the biff save you from a Great White?
The bar has been forever raised. No longer will it be adequate for husbands to say ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. Rather from this point forthwith men's wedding vows will have to include the ultimate statement of commitment, ‘I’d fight off a shark for you’.
Men owe this upping of the commitment stakes to the heroic efforts of Mark Rapley on Saturday morning, at Shelley Beach on the mid-north coast of NSW. After his wife, Chantelle Doyle, was repeatedly bitten by a juvenile Great White, Rapley launched off his board and threw a flurry of punches at the two-three metre predator. News reports suggest that the bold tactic worked and may well have saved the life of his girlfriend. Doyle, was later flown to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, where she is reportedly in a stable condition. We wish her a speedy recovery.
Aside from re-writing the script for nuptial commitment, Rapley has also added weight to the theory that adopting an aggressive attitude towards sharks can be effective.
Now, I’m not suggesting this theory is based on any kind of scientific proof, however, let's be honest, the scientists are not the ones at risk of being taken in tomorrow’s surf, it’s you and me, so if you don’t have a major research study to back up your actions then anecdotal evidence and gut instinct are as good as it gets.
If you are being attacked by a shark, as in it has come at you and made contact after you tried to avoid it, there are few alternatives. Once a shark (of almost any size) has engaged it can do grave damage or at worst kill you. Bereft of any alternative it seems logical to fight.
There are many documented incidents in recent history where aggressive retaliation against a shark has arguably saved a life. The most famous example is of course Mick Fanning’s mid-heat stoush with a shark at J-bay. Instinctively Mick Fanning responded to the contact from a shark by hurling a combination of punches at the apex predator. One can’t unequivocally conclude that Mick spooked the shark with his combo’ but it certainly seemed to the naked eye that his actions made a difference.
British doctor, Charlie Fry, claims he was inspired by Fanning's efforts when he, in turn, punched a shark that attacked him at Avoca, back in 2017. Describing the details of his attack Fry told the SMH, "So when it happened I was like, 'Just do what Mick did, just punch it in the nose'.
Back in 2007 abalone diver, Eric Nerhus, 41, was diving off Cape Howe near Eden when a Great White attacked from head-on and chomped down on his head and shoulders. His weighted vest prevented the teeth from doing more immediate damage but he was still trapped in the jaws of the large shark. Nerhus claims he escaped after he reached around and stabbed and clubbed at the creature's head and eyes with an abalone chisel until it spat him free.
Likewise, Mark Healey has talked about jabbing at sharks with his spear gun whilst diving. Healey is obviously not the only diver to employ such tactics to defend his catch or stop himself from becoming the source of prey. The common denominator is that an assertive or aggressive action to an animal that obviously has the upper-hand (but may not be that confident) has yielded results. Perhaps you can sight other examples?
Now, none of this is going to resolve a shark issue, which has seen three attacks on the mid-north coast in recent months (a lot more people have been surfing also) and I’m not advocating that anyone go and pick a fight with a Great White, but if I’m in the water tomorrow and a shark comes at me before I can get away, I’ll be summoning all the courage I can to go the biff.
In the meantime, I’ll be redrafting the wedding vows and shadow boxing with sharks.