Seven ways to survive a shark attack

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In case you've missed it, a great white shark is heading towards the UK. The improbably named Lydia is a 15-foot creature being tracked by Ocearch, whose data shows that she is less than 800 miles off the coast of the UK and heading north east. It's the first confirmed case of a great white crossing the mid-Atlantic ridge on migration from Florida. While the likelihood of an encounter off the Irish or Cornish coast are pretty much second-to-nil (and the chances of us swimming right now even less), we've decided to look at what might happen if you chanced across a tell-tale black fin while out swimming.

There's no real science behind avoiding or enduring an attack, but we can look at how previous victims have coped when faced with a beast of the deep. Here, seven people who survived a shark attack explain how they escaped and what they did (aside from being extraordinarily lucky) to ward off the carnivorous fish - plus, how they dealt with the aftermath of such a trauma. We've also added a few expert tips on lessening the chances of an attack:

"I was being held together by my wetsuit"

Rodney Fox was attacked by a shark way back in 1963 - but his story is so incredible, it still resonates today. Then 24 years old, Fox was taking part in a spear-fishing competition off the South Australian coast when a tremendous force slammed into his left hand side, propelling him through the water.

"My body was clamped, like in a giant vice. And then the awful, revolting realisation hit me: I was in the jaws of a shark. It was gripping me like a dog with a bone. I was going to die," he said. "I couldn't see the shark because of the way it was holding me. Its teeth had clamped themselves around my chest and back and my left shoulder was jammed into its throat."

The shark lunged at Fox again and again, dragging him through the water before it suddenly veered away and grabbed at a float that was attached to him by a long line. The line snapped with the force of the shark and Fox was able to free himself. It was only when he arrived at hospital that doctors realised how badly hurt he was - the wetsuit had, in effect, saved his life by holding his body together through a mass of injuries.

"My friends pulled me from the water"

Wakeboarder Lisa Mondy nearly lost an arm after a shark lunged at her while she was out with colleagues at Jimmy’s Beach, New South Wales in 2011.

"It hit me hard, wrapping its huge jaws around my arm and head. It took me down into the water but let me go after realising I wasn’t lunch," she said. "My friends pulled me from the water, but I was in deep trouble. I nearly lost an arm and lost a lot of blood. Thankfully I was rushed to hospital and was very, very lucky to survive."

Despite her encounter, the 24-year-old has since petitioned against the Australia government's move to cull sharks in the area.

"The dolphins corralled us up to protect us"

Lifeguard Rob Howes attributes dolphins to saving his group's life when he went swimming with his daughter and two friends off the North coast of New Zealand in 2004. He first noticed something was amiss when the dolphins started closing in on them.

"They started to herd us up, they pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us," Howes recalled. He then spotted a three-foot shark heading towards them.

"It was only about two metres away from me, the water was crystal clear and it was as clear as the nose on my face. They had corralled us up to protect us," he said.

The dolphins flanked the swimmers for around 40 minutes, by which time the shark had moved on and the group were able to swim the 100 metres back to the shore.

"There’s no way this thing is going to kill my daughter"

Mother Valeh Levy came charging to the rescue when her 15-year-old daughter Sydney was targeted by a shark when the pair were out surfing in Florida in 2012.

The two were paddling their boards off New Smyrna Beach when the teen was suddenly pulled off her board by a shark. The creature pulled Sydney under the water twice before her mother seized her and dragged her back onto her surfboard.

"It was to me like a scene out of Jaws, where the girl’s getting sucked under," Levy told a local TV channel. "I said, ‘There’s no way this thing is going to kill my daughter,’ and I grabbed her shoulders and I pulled her up and I threw her on the nose of my board."

The shark continued to circle mother and daughter until nearby surfers were alerted to their screams and helped escort them to shore.

"The shark was about to bite me, but bit the camera ­instead"

Conservationist Russell Easton, 42, was taking photos of a tiger shark in the Bahamas when it suddenly darted towards him. "I was looking through the viewfinder of the camera when I suddenly saw this huge mouth and teeth," Easton said.

"Sharks bite because that is how they find out what something is. It had its mouth wide open and was about to bite me, but bit the camera ­instead. That gave me a few vital seconds to swim away."

"I tried to punch it"

British surfer Darren Mills, 28, tried to punch a great white shark when it attacked him off the coast of New Zealand's South Island in February this year. Mills was sitting on his surfboard when the nine-foot shark tore through the tendons, lacerating his leg up to the thigh.

"I tried to punch it but it was more like a push," he told Television New Zealand's One News programme."I was pretty scared it was going to come back."

Mills managed to stay on his board after pushing at the shark and rode a wave back to shore, where a holidaying doctor tended to him until medics arrived.

"I was thankful to be alive"

Bethany Hamilton

Pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton hit headlines around the world after being attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark in the waters of Hawaii in 2003.

The then 13-year-old lost her arm in the incident but became a source of inspiration and motivation after choosing to continue her surfing career.

"I was afraid of not being able to surf again!" she later said. "I knew that if I couldn’t surf, life would REALLY change. My whole life revolved around the ocean, and I really didn’t want to lose that too."

Hamilton wrote about her experiences in her book, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board - which inspired the 2011 movie, Soul Surfer.

How to avoid a shark attack

The shark to end all sharks: Jaws threw the concept of shark attacks into the public consciousness

We round up a few expert tips:

  • Avoid going into the water alone: Sharks may be deterred by larger groups and one of the biggest reasons behind fatalities in shark attacks is the delay in getting someone medical help. Having people around you will help speed up the process.
  • Stay clear of fishing boats: They may trail fish remains in blood, which will attract predators.
  • If you're bleeding, stay out of the water: The same goes if you cut yourself when you're in the water - head back to shore. Sharks can smell and even taste a tiny amount of blood from 1.6 kilometres away.
  • Avoid large groups of seals or fish: They are prey for sharks and any frenetic activity may indicate the presence of a shark nearby.
  • Avoid entering the water at dawn, dusk or night: This is typically feeding time for sharks.
  • Try to wear bland, darker clothing: "It does matter what you're wearing," says Sydney-based sharks expert Chris Neff. "Jewellery is a big no-no... you certainly wouldn't wear something that was flashy." A shark's eyesight is poor but it distinguishes between shapes in shades of black and white - so white, yellow and flesh-tone colours especially stands out.
  • If a shark approaches you, prepare to defend yourself: Anything you do at this stage may work to distract the shark from attack, from body movement to lashing out at it or gouging at its eyes. "The one thing that I've consistently heard is most effective is gouging the shark in the eye," says John West of the Taronga Conservation Society Australia.
  • And remember: shark attacks are rare. Only about a dozen of the approximately 500 shark species should be considered potentially dangerous to humans. White, tiger and bull sharks are responsible for more than half of all shark attacks.

Photos: Rex Features

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