A Savannah attorney said he feels “very fortunate” after a shark bit into his arm during his morning swim Sunday — causing a trip to the E.R. and 23 stitches between his arm and chest.
Gene Brooks was swimming in the Wilmington River near his dock when the shark bit him.
“It felt like I got punched in my right shoulder by someone a lot bigger than me, which is what I’ve always heard it feels like when a shark bites you,” Brooks said. “I immediately started kicking and, I think, scared it away.”
Brooks said he didn’t get a glimpse of the predator but knew what happened when he saw the blood dripping from his arm.
Luckily, the shark released Brooks’ arm before fully biting through.
Scientists at the International Shark Attack File call these “hit and run” bites. They are the most common type of unprovoked shark attacks.
“He hit me hard and then decided he didn’t want me. I think he sank his teeth in me and thought I was too bony,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t a full bite, but the teeth hit me in the chest and underneath my arm.”
His wife, a nurse, cleaned and wrapped up the wound immediately and took Brooks to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.
“They gave me 20 stitches in my arm and three in my chest,” he said.
Brooks said he felt “very fortunate” looking at the size of the teeth and the spot the shark chose to chomp.
“If his jaw closed, I would have lost the back part of my arm,” Brooks said. “I’m very fortunate.”
“If he went an inch either way, he would have hit muscle or an artery. Really any other place on my body would have been worse.”
Brooks even said he’ll swim in the ocean and the river again.
“But I will wear a (shark-repellant) bracelet,” he added.
Bull shark bite?
Brooks said he never got a look at the creature that bit his arm, but experts believe a bull shark is the likely culprit.
Kevin McMurray, shark attack researcher of of TrackingSharks.com, told Brooks he believes a 4-to 5-foot bull shark likely bit him. McMurray said on his website that recent heavy rains in the area could have contributed to the incident. Murky waters from rain can increase the chance of a shark mistaking a human for food.
Lowcountry “shark whisperer” Chip Michalove also said the wounds appear to be caused by a bull shark because of the distance between the teeth marks. Michalove said the bite marks appear to be from a shark around 200 pounds.
Bull sharks are known for their “aggressive bite,” Bryan Frazier, shark biologist at SCDNR, previously told The Island Packet.
Despite the fact that they’re commonly found in Lowcountry waters, they rarely attack humans in South Carolina. These sharks can grow up to 8 feet long and average about 200 and 290 pounds.
Bull sharks were named for their stout bodies and bull-like reputations.
They can survive in both salt and fresh water, which is a reason Frazier said they’re blamed for so many attacks. The fact that they can live in so many different places makes their population more abundant. They love shallow water, too, so it explains their frequent contact with humans.
“(Bull sharks) are not bothered by brackish and freshwater, and even venture far inland via rivers and tributaries,” according to National Geographic.
Frazier previously told The Island Packet that smaller sharks are more common in rivers in the region.
Pups, as baby sharks are known, head “straight to the rivers” when they’re born in Lowcountry sounds, and smaller sharks are more likely to be in the surf or the rivers.
“Bigger sharks will devour smaller sharks, so the pups stay clear of the sounds and open ocean and head for the rivers where they can find a food source,” he said.
Though sharks are abundant in Lowcountry waters, attacks are exceedingly rare.
The number of shark attacks in South Carolina during 2017 doubled from the previous year, according to an annual report released in February 2018 by the International Shark Attack File. There were 10 confirmed shark attacks in South Carolina. Of those, eight were on Hilton Head Island. Seven of the Hilton Head incidents occurred in shallow water and involved children.
Experts have stressed that the increased number of shark attacks are no reason to panic because they think more people now know to report shark attacks to authorities at the International Shark Attack File.
Last year, a shark bit a 10-year-old’s right forearm while he and his older brother were splashing in waist-deep water on Hilton Head.
In North Carolina, three people have been attacked by sharks this year.