Sharktruth Part 2: Interview with a Shark Attack Survivor (Warning: Graphic Images)

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(Warning: Graphic images)

Allow me to introduce Diego Intriago; a good friend of mine from the Galapagos, avid surfer, diver and ocean lover who survived a shark attack. I narrowly missed the chance to be with him during the incident because my surfboard suffered a fracture the day before the incident. I had to pass up on what would have been the surfing day of a lifetime. But this isn’t my story, it’s Diego’s. Here’s what happened and how Diego feels nearly four years after the incident.

Can you describe the events of the day?

Sure… it was May 14, 2013, mid-day, and I was surfing with three friends. It was low tide, a perfect day… good waves, clear water, but the shore water was stirred up because the waves were strong. A friend caught a wave all the way to shore, and when he paddled back out he told me something had hit his leg pretty hard. When I had gotten in the water, I saw a bunch of mullet feeding near the shore, and I told my friend it was probably one of them that hit his leg. I didn’t think too much about it. The moment after my friend said this, I caught the next wave and I rode it nearly all the way in. As it broke up, I dived into the water and floated there for a second, pulling my board back towards me to swim back out.

 At the instant of contact, what did you feel?

I felt like something was coming up behind me, and as I turned, it grabbed my leg and shook hard. I swung at it to make it let me go until it finally did.

Sharktruth

Wound inflicted during the shark attack while Diego was surfing. Notice the precision and control with which the shark bit Diego’s calf. Each tooth created an individual incision, evident from the strips of intact skin between each tooth mark. If the shark was trying to consume Diego, the bite would not be so precise and multiple bites would be expected. Photograph credit Diego Intriago

When you realized it was a shark that had hit you, what was the first thought that crossed your mind?

I got onto the board, lifted my leg and realized immediately that it had been a shark – by the shape of the injury and the force with which I had been hit. The first thing I thought was to get out of the water, so I paddled super hard with the next wave to reach the shore.

In the following days, what did you feel with respect to sharks? Did you at any point feel any anger or hatred towards them?

I never felt any hatred towards them, neither before, nor after. We surfers have made their home our amusement park; we enter their territory. The sea is their home, where they belong!

How much time did you spend healing, and when did you first get back in the water?

I got eighty-two stitches, and then spent five months in healing, going through therapy and spending time in the hyperbaric chamber to help with the healing process, until I finally returned to the same spot where it happened to get back in the water.

Before the incident, how much time would you spend in the water every week? And now?

I spent five or six, sometimes seven, days a week in the water for long hours at a time before the incident, and I spend just as much time in the water now.

Sharktruth

Here you see Diego’s shark bite healing. Diego got back into the water for the first time to surf at the same exact spot where he was bitten, 5 months after the shark attack

What do you tell people who ask about your scar?

 Well (laughing)…sometimes I lie! I tell them that it was a bike accident or that I burned myself. I don’t want to scare them. There are times when I do tell the truth and I try to use myself as an example of why they don’t have to be afraid, that the risk of attack is so minimal. That in reality, if they see one, they should remain calm and don’t be nervous because they are in the shark’s home, and what’s more… it’s a super cool experience to see them in the water where they belong.

Which species of shark bit you? Do you know how big it was?

It could have been a Galapagos shark or a black-tip shark, I don’t know exactly…but from the size of the bite mark, they calculated it was a little more than two meters long.

What is your favourite species of shark and why?

I don’t have a favourite to be honest…I love them all for their shape, the way each one fits into its own habitat perfectly.

How has your perspective regarding sharks changed?

In no way, shape or form has it changed. I continue to have the same respect for sharks that I had before. I love sharks, they are a fundamental part of our ocean and I do whatever I can to continue protecting them. I don’t fear them, and I never will; I love to see them when I am surfing…it means that their populations are recovering and that they’re living in an environment filled with life.

What would you say to those who are afraid of sharks?

I think that after what happened to me, not many people would return to the water with the same enthusiasm that I did. The probability of being attacked again is so tiny. I always tell people that they should not be afraid because sharks are not interested in humans, and if they ever do bite a human, it’s a case of mistaken identity, not because they want to hurt us.

So why does a man who was has every reason to fear and hate sharks advocate getting in the water with them? The reason lies in the role that sharks play in nature. They are critical to the health of the oceans, and therefore to our own health, and they are declining in numbers. Without them and other keystone species, ocean food chains are in imminent danger of collapse. By spending time in the water with sharks, people can learn to respect and protect these magnificent creatures.

Join us soon for Part 3 of Sharktruth ‘Sharks…Man’s Real Best Friend’ to learn about the importance of sharks.

Sharktruth

As Diego walks the path back to his home surf break in Galapagos, the scar is a reminder to him of how important sharks are, and how lucky he is for his encounter. Photograph credit Diego Intriago

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About Author

I first learned to dive in the Galapagos Islands in 2011 and was instantly hooked, both to diving and to the underwater world in general. I grew up in the Arizona desert, and studied Ecology there as well, and I now relish the opportunity to spend my time in the water. Diving has been my profession for the last 3 years; I guided and taught courses for 2 years in the Caribbean, and have recently switched gears to the ever-more diverse and vastly different Indo-Pacific. When I’m not giving people an inside look at life underwater, I love hiking, spicy food, karaoke, and good dad-jokes.

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