Shark attacks are a fairly rare occurrence.
Sharks generally don’t enjoy eating people, much preferring fattier nautical fare like delicious blubbery seals. Most attacks are a case of mistaken identity, occurring in low visibility situations where a shark is more likely to mistake a flailing human for a tasty sea lion.
Still, attacks do happen, and when they do they’re often terrifying and horrific. Here are the 15 worst shark attacks ever.
15. French surfer’s arm ripped off when attacked by several sharks
On March 6, 2009 a 19-year-old French student was surfing with friends at a popular surf spot in the French Pacific territory island of New Caledonia, when he was attacked by a group of sharks. As the attack began, the student flailed his way back to the boat where his friend was waiting, but the group of sharks began biting at his leg, and eventually succeeded in ripping his arm off entirely.
The student managed to reach the boat, but by the time his friend was able to get him to shore he had already died from the shark-inflicted wounds. Several sharks versus one Frenchman really doesn’t seem like a very fair fight, but sharks really don’t like to play fair when it comes to making a meal out of someone.
The attack was the first fatal shark attack in the area since 2007, when a shark attack killed a nurse, which seems to point to sharks in the New Caledonia area being real picky about the social value of the humans they decide to snack on.
14. 22ft shark heroically defends innocent abalone by devouring a diver
June 1959: Robert Pamperin was diving for abalone in La Jolla Cove, California, when suddenly he began screaming for help. His diving partner, Gerald Lehrer, turned to see his friend rising unusually high in the water. Swimming over quickly to help his friend, Lehrer watched as he was slowly dragged down into the now crimson waters. Lehrer took a breath, and dove below only to see his friend waist deep into the sharks mouth, legs first.
Lehrer estimated that the shark was 22ft long, and based on the teeth, most likely a Great White. Lehrer surfaced to get more air into his lungs, then dove down again in an attempt to scare the shark off. Lehrer swam down and flailed his arms and legs in a futile attempt to startle the creature, but the shark was not about to let go of his meal.
Lehrer surfaced again, and swam to the beach to alert the coast guard. Scuba divers spent hours searching the sea floor for any signs of Pamperin, but their search only yielded a single swim fin. The single swim fin being the only remains unearthed would go on to become a popular cliche of shark attacks for years to come.
13. 10-year-old boy attacked and killed by a shark in only 4ft of water
We like to imagine that fatal shark attacks can be avoided if we just stick to shallow waters, but that’s sadly not the case. A 10-year-old boy died of injuries inflicted by a shark while playing on a sandbar 50ft from shore at Virginia Beach, where the water was only 4ft deep.
When the shark attacked, the boy’s father, who had accompanied him out to the sandbar, attempted to beat the shark over the head, trying to get it to release his helpless son.
The boy suffered multiple bites on his legs and thigh, resulting in a large loss of blood. He was rushed to a hospital, but he died in the intensive care unit. This was the first fatal shark attack in the history of Virginia, with only five non-fatal attacks having been previously reported. The type of shark that attacked the boy was unknown, though it was most likely a smaller species like the sandbar or sand tiger.
12. Abalone have obviously struck some sort of deal with Great White sharks, so be careful!
Randy Fry and his friend Cliff Zimmerman were free diving for abalone off the coast of Mendocino County in California in 2004 when, in an instant, Fry became the 10th victim of a Great White shark attack in California history.
Fry had just taken a deep breath and had dove back into the water to make his descent to the sea floor when he was suddenly charged by a Great White shark and killed instantly. Zimmerman, who had momentarily turned away from his friend, heard a great “whooshing” sound and reported that the water felt as if “a boat had gone by.” He quickly spun around to see a fin momentarily surface before it disappeared into the now bloody waters. “It was the most dramatic thing I ever saw in my life,” Zimmerman said. “It’s just not real. This monster came so fast, it happened so fast and was over so fast you think, ‘How can this happen?’”
Days later Fry’s remains were discovered, his severed head and torso recovered separately. Based on this incident and the Robert Pamperin attack, it’s obvious that the abalone population has struck some sort of nefarious aquatic deal with Great White sharks in exchange for protection; it’s probably best to steer clear of them from now on.
11. Man in Cape Town devoured by a Great White shark
Lloyd Skinner, 37, tried to escape the 95′F heat in Cape Town, South Africa by taking a stroll to one of Cape Town’s most popular beaches. Skinner waded into the cool waters, blissfully unaware of the behemoth creeping up on him.
A Great White pummeled towards Skinner at 25mph, enveloping the man’s entire body in its enormous mouth. Skinner somehow managed to struggle his way back to the surface, the waters around him turning blood red. Moments later the shark made it’s second attack, knocking Skinner into the air before pulling him back into the crimson waters. Nobody was able to find a trace of Lloyd Skinner after the attack, leading authorities to believe that the shark consumed the man whole.
Witnesses described the shark as “dinosaur huge.” Experts believe that the increased popularity of shark baiting in the area has contributed to an increase on shark attacks, with the smell of chum used being spread through the oceans, leading Great Whites to be attracted closer and closer to shores in search of a meal.
10. More proof that abalone and Great White sharks are in collusion
On September 15, 1984, Omar Conger and his diving partner Chris Rehm were off the coast of Santa Cruz, California, diving for abalone, when once again a shark appeared in the defense of his abalone allies.
The two men had managed to capture about 3 abalone after 30 or so minutes of work. Conger was taking a break, floating lazily in the water and looking out to sea while Rehm rested on the surf-mat the two were sharing, when suddenly a huge Great White surfaced behind Conger, grabbed him, and while shaking him violently pulled him below the surface of the water.
Seconds later, the shark resurfaced, and with it’s back fully out of the water and Conger still in its mouth, it began swimming full speed at Rehm. When it reached only a few meters away from Rehm’s surf-mat, the shark inexplicably let go of Conger, and swam off. Rehm immediately swam over to help his friend, but on their way to the shore it was clear that Conger was already dead.
His wound marks suggested that the shark had grabbed him by both thighs before dragging him under water, and that the shark was likely around 16 ft in length. Three more shark attacks occurred over the next 15 day period, though fortunately Conger remained the only casualty.
9. Look, if you don’t want to get killed by a Great White shark then just don’t dive for abalone, okay?
In the autumn of 1974, Terry Manuel was diving for abalone off Cape Catastrophe, South Australia (yeah, sounds like a REALLY good place for not getting eaten by sharks, Terry).
Manuel had just finished his collection, and was returning to the surface when a 15ft Great White ascended below him at nearly 25mph and struck him with such force that he was lifted to the surface and all the way out of the water.
On the boat, Manuel’s diving partner John Talbot saw what had happened and began dragging Manuel over by his air hose. Once he was close enough, Talbot grabbed Manuel by his arms and struggled to wrench his legs from the shark’s powerful jaws. Eventually, Talbot succeeded, but the shark had completely severed one of Manuel’s legs. Manuel bled to death shortly afterwards.
8. Sharks find tuba players especially tasty
No matter how appealingly named the place you are swimming in is, you must remember that cute names are no guarantee that you won’t die a gruesome shark-related death.
Just ask Barry Wilson (just kidding, you can’t because he’s dead), a 17-year-old tuba player who holds the dubious distinction of being the first recorded shark attack victim in the history of California. Wilson was swimming about 40ft from shore with a friend at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA when he suddenly began violently shaking from side-to-side.
Wilson began to scream for help, but the shark quickly made his second pass, attacking Wilson from the front, lifting his body completely out of the water before dragging him into the murky depths. A few moments later, Wilson reappeared and continued screaming. Witnesses swam to his aid, struggling to get Wilson back to shore, but the rocky current made the task difficult and slow; Wilson bled to death on the trip.
Wilson’s right hamstring and buttocks had been almost completely severed in the attack, and his right leg had severe bite marks.
7. 13-year-old phenom surfer loses entire arm to a tiger shark
Bethany Hamilton was surfing off the coast of Kauai on Halloween morning in 2003 when she lost her entire left arm to a 15ft tiger shark. Hamilton was paddling out to catch a wave, her left arm dangling in the water, when a “gray blur” suddenly attacked her.
The shark began tugging her arm back and forth and the next thing Hamilton knew, her left arm (from the shoulder down) was floating in the water, while she held on to her surfboard for dear life with her right. She began paddling furiously back to the beach with her right arm, and with the aid of her friends, made it to the beach where she passed out. A friend’s father fashioned a tourniquet for Hamilton’s arm out of a surf leash, but even that wasn’t enough to stop Hamilton from losing 70 percent of her blood. Miraculously, Hamilton survived, with the doctors attributing her excellent physical condition to playing a huge role in her recovery.
A month later, Hamilton was surfing again competitively.
6. Man captures the loss of his leg to a Great White on film
Henri Bource and two other divers were playing with seals off the coast of Australia when a Great White shark came up under him and grabbed onto his leg with its powerful jaws.
Bource tried to fight back by attempting to gauge out the shark’s eyes and shoving his arm down the shark’s throat in order to free his leg. Bource’s efforts were not enough to stop the beast, and the shark eventually succeeded in ripping Bource’s leg clean off.
His screams alerted his fellow divers, who managed to drag him back onto the boat. Once aboard the ship, Bource was able to tell the other divers his blood type, which they radioed to shore. He survived the attack, and used the footage he shot of it later in his documentary “Savage Shadows.”
5. Tiger sharks devour scuba diver in the Bahamas
On May 30, 2008, a power boat capsized near Memory Rock in the Bahamas, a popular shark baiting site (shark baiting is the practice of lowering divers into shark cages and then throwing out bait to attract sharks). Four scuba divers floated helplessly as they were encircled and harassed by a group of hungry tiger sharks.
Two men and one woman drowned after the boat capsized, but Captain Jonathan Rose, whose boat was in the area, witnessed the sharks devour the entire body of at least one man. Rose was able to rescue the three bodies from the sharks, but he had to stand helplessly by as the voracious animals shredded and consumed the fourth.
Since there were no survivors, it’s unknown if there were potentially more divers eaten by the sharks before Rose arrived on the scene. “It was a pretty horrible sight,” Rose said. “It’s just not something you can get out of your brain.”
4. Sharks terrorize the Jersey Shore, unfortunately 94 years too early to eat Snooki
Four people were killed in shark attacks along the Jersey Shore during the deadly heat wave of 1916. Charles Vansant, 25, was the first victim. While Vansant was enjoying an early evening swim, sharks came and attacked, stripping the flesh from his thigh, causing Vansant to bleed to death.
Five days later, the second victim, Charles Bruder, was killed when a shark ripped into his abdomen and severed both his legs. The last attacks occurred 6 days later on July 12. Lester Stillwell, 12, was dragged underwater while he and some friends played at Matawan Creek. Watson Fisher splashed in to rescue the boy, but the shark fought back and dragged Fisher underwater with him. A half mile downstream, teenager Joseph Dunn was attacked and bitten on the leg by a shark, but his friends managed to drag him away from the beast and rush him to a local hospital where his leg was saved. Two days after these final attacks, a Great White shark was caught in Raritan Bay.
When the shark’s stomach was cut open, fisherman discovered 15 pounds of human flesh. It’s still unknown whether these attacks were all the work of one shark, or if the shark community had somehow banded together to wage war on the residents of New Jersey.
3. 13-year-old mutilated by a shark, miraculously survives
Rodney Fox was defending his Australian spear-fishing title on December 8, 1953, when a Great White shark grabbed him by the middle of his torso. The shark gripped Fox in his powerful jaws, while the 13-year-old desperately tried to use his spear to gouge the shark’s eyes. Finally, one of his attacks met it’s mark and the shark released him, but quickly circled around and came back for more. At this point Fox jammed his arm down the sharks mouth, and when he pulled it out the flesh was stripped away by the shark’s razor-like teeth. The shark then returned for a third attack, grabbing Fox and dragging him along the ocean floor where the boy nearly drowned. Miraculously, he was suddenly released and pulled up by rescuers into a nearby boat…
The bones were visible on Fox’s right hand, arm, and rib cage. His lungs and upper stomach had also been exposed by the attack. By keeping Fox’s wetsuit on him, his rescuers prevented his organs from spilling out of his body.
Fox was rushed to a hospital, and after four hours of surgery and 360 stitches, the boy went on to develop the shark cage so that he and other’s could better study sharks in their environment and filmed the live shark footage used in the film Jaws.
2. Woman ripped in half, devoured by Great White
On March 3, 1985, Shirley Ann Durdin, 33 and mother of four, was scanning the bay floor for scallops in Port Lincoln, Australia. Although she was 150 yards out, the water was only 6ft deep. As her husband and children watched in horror from the shore, a Great White shark, which witnesses estimated was about 19-20 ft in length, seemingly came out of nowhere and attacked Mrs Durdin, ripping her in two.
The shark circled around to make another pass, at which point the beast devoured her corpse whole. Mrs Durdin’s husband Barry had to be held down by friends to keep from jumping into the water to rescue his wife, while he frantically repeated, “She’s gone, she’s gone.” Authorities that in the day’s after the attack searched for any remains found only a solitary swim fin.