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Is it a good idea to punch a shark in the nose during an attack? Experts weigh in

What to do if you see a shark

What should you do if you see a shark? Chris Lowe, Director of California State University Long Beach's Shark Lab, explains what to do and what to look out for.
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What should you do if you see a shark? Chris Lowe, Director of California State University Long Beach's Shark Lab, explains what to do and what to look out for.

Will punching a shark in the nose really stop it from attacking you?

Firefighter Charlie Winter tried it as a shark was biting his daughter’s leg June 2 off North Carolina’s Atlantic Beach. And his family believes the desperate act -- he punched it five times -- ended the attack and saved 17-year-old Paige Winter.

Experts are inclined to agree.

“If... a shark bites you, what we recommend is you should hit the shark in the eye, in the nose, or stick your hand in the gills,” says Chris Lowe, of the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab, in an instructional video. “Those are all sensitive tissues and quite often it causes the shark to release.”

It’s unclear whether Charlie Winter knew that as he punched at the shark. He hasn’t yet released a statement about the attack. However, Winter is both a firefighter and paramedic with the City of Havelock Fire - Rescue Department and he served in the Marines, according to a GoFundMe campaign.

Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File says it’s the tip of the nose that makes the best target, but warns that one’s aim must be good, considering “the mouth is close to the nose.”

Nick Wapner, a 19-year-old Cal Poly student, was attacked by a great white shark at Montana de Oro on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018. He describes how he kicked the shark in the head to break free of its bite on his ankles.

“An aggressive shark often will return, however, and each subsequent hit to the snout will be less effective, so take advantage of any escape opportunities,” says the museum’s “Advice to Divers” web page.

“If a shark actually gets you in its mouth, we advise to be as aggressively defensive as you are able....Pound the shark in any way possible. Try to claw at the eyes and gill openings, two very sensitive areas,” the site states.

The ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research also advises punching an attacking shark, but adds one sobering tip to keep in mind if you swing and miss.

“It may be frowned upon in orthodox ethological circles..., but -- based on my experience -- I have no doubt it is possible to piss off a shark. Trust me: you don’t want to do that,” the site says.

The chances of getting bit by a shark while swimming in the ocean are very, very slim. Just in case, and to hopefully ease your mind, here are a few tips from the International Shark Attack File to reduce your chances of getting bit.

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