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What It's Like to Be Attacked by a Shark

Updated June 14, 2019 860.9k views17 items

Anyone who's ever seen Jaws has probably had a few days where they were afraid of the ocean - and these shark attack facts might just bring that fear surging back. In reality, every year, one or two people die from sharks. Sharks seemingly decide at random when to kill a human, and they're kind of flawless at doing just that. Of course, maybe you're the morbid sort of person who wonders what it's like to be attacked by a shark. The moment of terror, the pain, the panic... well, lucky you, because we're going to tell you all about what being killed by a shark is like.

So, when it comes to shark attack death facts, things can seem kind of scary. How do you escape? What are the odds of it happening to you? Rest assured: shark attacks are very rare, and it's even less likely that you'll die from one. That still doesn't make the prospect of an animal gnawing on your flesh any less terrifying.

As a final warning, some of the subjects discussed here are pretty graphic, so this isn't for those with weak stomachs. But hey, if you've seen any shark attack movie ever, you can probably handle it. Just don't plan on going to the beach anytime soon. 

  • Photo: Walt Stoneburner / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    You Won't See It Coming, But Others Probably Will

    According to several people who have been bitten by sharks, they never knew there was a shark near them until they were being attacked. One attack victim from 2015, Hunter Treschl, said it happened like this:

    I didn't see it coming. I was just in about waist-deep water, playing with my cousin... and felt this kind of hit on my left leg... like it was a big fish coming near you or something. Then it just kind of hit my arm. That was the first I saw it, when it was biting up my left arm.

    He lost his arm in the attack. However, sharks that can kill tend to be pretty large. This means that those far away from you might see a shape in the water way before you do. 

  • Photo: Rome Romz / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    You'll Feel Like You've Been Hit By A Truck

    A shark that's big enough to probably kill you is going to be moving pretty fast when it bites you. In fact, one thing it will do is throw its body weight at you, both to stun and confuse you and also to sink its teeth in better. One swimmer in South Maui who was bitten by a shark in 2016 talked about the experience to the people trying to help him:

    "He said, 'It felt like a boat hit me. He was really a trooper. He wasn't screaming," reported TJ McGuire, one of the first responders after the attack.

    In other words, prepare to be in pain, confused, and unsure of what just hit you. 

  • Photo: The British Library / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    You're Going Underwater, Even If You Punch Them in the Nose

    If a shark bites down and holds on, it's likely that the next they're going to do is drag you beneath the surface of the water. Remember, you're fighting a shark here, so if they decide you're going underwater with them, then there's not much you can do about it. Some say that when this happens, you should just punch the shark in the nose, but that's wildly inaccurate. Seriously, punching something underwater? Not easy. However, if you have the opportunity to try to poke it in the eye, that sometimes will make them let go of you, so that's the expert-recommended course of action. 

  • Photo: Mshai / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    You May Hear Your Bones Breaking

    Sharks have really strong jaws. Scientists have estimated that a great white can exert 4,000 pounds per square inch (psi) with a single bite, though it's never been properly tested. Because of that, when a shark bites you, it's going to do two things: try to gnaw a piece off of you, and bite down as hard as it possibly can. One surfer, Kenny Doudt, who was attacked by a shark and barely survived, knows exactly how that feels first-hand: 

    I was not yet fully aware of what was happening. I felt tremendous pressure on my chest and heard ribs snapping and the crunching of the underside on my board as it (the shark) turned out to sea. I felt totally helpless.

    So, imagine feeling your body being crushed and cut at the same time, and imagine feeling too confused and helpless to do anything about it. That's what it's like to be bitten by a shark.