Monday, May 9, 2016

Old Pants, Sharks and French Polynesia

While looking through a pile of old tropical fishing clothing in preparation for an upcoming trip to the Bahamas, I found these pants. They are ripped and no longer of value. I wondered why I hadn't thrown them out. Only after I shook them out and held them up did I remember why I had held onto them. They had been shredded by an 8' blacktip reef shark that attacked me on the French Polynesian Island of Tetiaroa. 

I had just caught the monster bone seen in the photo below and was wading 30 feet off the edge of a drop-off looking for another “fish of a lifetime".  

I was hoping to see another big bone sneak onto the flat as the tide was rising and conditions were perfect for a  confident "bonezilla" to come out of the deep. What I got was not what I wanted! Suddenly, out of the turquoise waters, a huge shark charged up from the deep and onto the flat. The beast hydroplaned straight at me throwing a  spray of water to each side. I instinctively turned as he hit me hard on the lower left leg.

The force of the blow knocked me down and pulled my pants down to my ankles. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to think. My leg hurt and I was scared shitless. My adrenal glands were working overtime as I pushed myself away from the fish that was now clumsily pushing himself away from me. With a few broad sweeps of his tail, he was off the flat as quickly as he had arrived.

I was sure I had been bitten! Since we were many hours from help, I feared I would bleed out sitting on my ass in a shallow French Polynesian marinade of lightly salted blood broth. I examined my leg through the torn fabric. Looking like a purple baseball, a nasty hematoma was sprouting on my shin... but I saw no blood. I checked my leg front and back and struggled to calm my breathing. Apparently the shark was just checking to see if I was edible. Apparently, and to my great relief, I was not. Somehow, I was OK! I soon stood up, pulled up my shredded pants and limped back to the skiff. I remember sitting on the gunnel shaken and in pain, but very happy to be alive, let alone virtually uninjured. 

While putting this post together, I found this report on the attack that I never knew, until yesterday, existed. Someone from the village clinic or at our pension must have made a report. The clinic gave me some ice, an old ace bandage and a cold Hinano beer. Gotta love that! The next day had me back in the game, albeit a bit slowed down and a lot more cautious. I waded no more deep edges for the rest of the trip and to this day, keep my eyes very wide open when doing so.
Here is the report from Global Shark Attack

CASE: GSAF 2002.11.00
DATE: November 2002
LOCATION: The incident took place in the Pacific Ocean on Tetiaroa, a coral atoll owned by film star Marlon Brando. Tetiaroa is in the Society Islands of French Polynesia.
NAME: Scott Heywood
DESCRIPTION: He is a member of the Explorers Club.
On his website, Heywood describes Tetiaroa atoll, "This paradise of swaying palms, healthy coral reefs, azure cuts and turquoise lagoons is bordered with hard bottomed, excellent white sand flats that hold BIG bonefish...very big bonefish. On Tetiaroa, bonefish are not seen in the numbers of the Bahamas or Caribbean, but the average size of the bonefish on Teitiaroa is simply awesome."
NARRATIVE: Scott was fishing for bonefish and wading along the edge of the atoll 20 feet from the edge of a deep channel. Suddenly, a shark swam up from the bottom of the channel, cleared the edge of the atoll, and accelerated toward Scott. He waited for it to veer off but the shark didn’t swerve and hit him swimming at full throttle, and then swam away. "The only things I can think of that might have triggered the attack was that the shark hadn't seen many people in that remote area and the sharks in that area seemed to be more aggressive than normal."
INJURY: The shark slammed into Scott’s shin. The force of the collision knocked him down. He apprehensively touch his lower leg where the shark had hit him, worried the shark might have severed an artery and concerned that there would be blood in the water. He was amazed to discover the shark had not bitten him but "I had an awful bone bruise that bothered me for three weeks," Scott said.
EQUIPMENT DAMAGE: The shark ripped his wading pants to shreds. SPECIES INVOLVED: Blacktip shark
SOURCE: Scott Heywood, Angling Destinations,

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