We’re capping off shark week with a bang—with a couple gnarly and violent stories about shark attacks, as well as some tips on how to survive a shark attack.

Believe it or not, they’re actually aren’t that many shark attacks per year. But all it takes is one headline of a nurse shark attack in the Bahamas or a teenage girl who survived a Florida shark attack to make people think twice about getting into the water.

In this shark attack feature, we’ve gathered two true survival tales of fishermen who were attacked by sharks—bull sharks in both encounters—along with some expert analysis designed to help you learn how to survive a shark attack.

Table of Contents

  • Survival Story I: Mauled by a Bull Shark
  • Analysis: How to Survive a Shark Attack
  • Survival Story II: Attacked by a Shark While Spearfishing

How I Survived a Shark Attack on a Family Fishing Trip

On Aug. 11, Don White, 45, was fishing off North Carolina with friends and family. On the ride back in, they all humped in the water to cool off. Then a bull shark attacked Don.

The eight of us boarded the Sea Jule, my cousin Jay’s 26-foot boat, at 8:30 a.m. I’m not a big fisherman, but this trip is an annual tradition for my sons, Donnie and Buck, and we always enjoy it. An hour later, we reached an offshore wreck and started fishing.

Stitches on fisherman's leg after begin attacked by a shark
White almost lost his leg after he was attacked by a bull shark. Courtesy of Don White

The bite was solid all day. We pulled in a mixed bag of cobia, grouper, and some other fish and planned to cook some of them for dinner. During the boat ride back, one of the boys asked Jay if we could stop for a quick swim. We’d been in 90-degree heat for six hours. Jay cut the engine 2 miles from the wreck, then checked the fishfinder. He didn’t see anything in the water, so the boys jumped in.

I teased them from the boat. We’d been watching Shark Week just the week before, so that was on our minds. Then Jay jumped in. I didn’t want to be the only one out of the water, so I followed him. The water did feel good.

A cloud of blood began to rise around me as I struggled toward the boat ladder. When I got on board, I saw a 12-inch gash running down my right leg.

Fisherman, Don White

I was swimming 15 feet from the boat when something slammed into my right leg. The hit sent a shock wave all the way up my spine. I tried to figure out what it could have been: One of the boys jumped on me. But no one surfaced. Jay is playing a trick on me. But neither he nor the boys were within 8 feet of me. It felt like a dream. That didn’t just happen. Did it?

“Get out of the water!” I shouted. “Now! I just got bit by a shark!”

A cloud of blood began to rise around me as I struggled toward the boat ladder. When I got on board, I saw a 12-inch gash running down my right leg. I settled into a corner of the transom and took a deep breath. I didn’t want to worry the boys. “A couple of stitches,” I assured them. “We’ll still have our fish fry tonight.” They tied a T-shirt around the wound and Jay tightened his belt above my right knee as a tourniquet. We looked back at the bloodstained water and there, slashing the surface, saw a half dozen 8- to 10-foot bull sharks.

fisherman don white stands on a beach where he was attacked by a shark
White says he has no desire to go fishing in the ocean again after being attacked by a shark.

I held the tourniquet tight. Jay radioed the local police and Coast Guard. We picked up an escort at the marina and flew through the no-wake zone.

When I got to the hospital, the doctors told me right away that I’d need more than a couple of stitches. The shark had done serious muscle damage. They also told me the tourniquet could’ve cost me my leg. As they worked on me that night, the doctors found a tooth that the shark had left in my leg when it hit me. I asked to keep it.

My leg has healed nicely. But the next time we go to the beach, I’ll be staying on land. I have no desire to be in the ocean again. None. —Story by Don White, as Told to Jed Portman

Analysis: Tips on How to Survive a Shark Attack

Had White gone swimming in the same water his friends had chummed, as early incomplete reports of this story suggested, he’d be an unbeatable candidate for this year’s Darwin Awards. But the fishing party drove 2 miles from the wreck before cutting the motor and checked the sonar before diving overboard. They also did an exemplary job of rescuing White. Sure, they could be cited for applying a tourniquet, but all in all, they did everything right with one small exception: They jumped into shark-infested waters!

North Carolina, and in particular Carteret County where they were fishing, ranks among the most dangerous places in the world to take a dip. Last year, more people in North Carolina were victims of shark attacks than in any state besides Florida. In the past decade, 33 people have been attacked by sharks in North Carolina, with three fatalities. White’s was the third shark attack in just over a month.

If, like White, you choose to roll the dice, keep these don’ts in mind: Don’t swim in murky water or if you have a wound. Don’t swim in low light. Don’t go in the drink with baitfish. Don’t swim with your dog. Don’t swim with jewelry on. And don’t swim in or near river channels, dropoffs, or anywhere abrupt changes in salinity, water depth, or current are found.

How I Survived a Shark Attack While Spearfishing

an artists rendering of a shark attacking a spearfisherman
Neumann was attacked by a bull shark during a spearfishing trip. David Hollenbach

One April, Rick Neumann, 70, was spearfishing for cobia with friends in Florida when a 10-foot bull shark attacked.

On Good Friday, a friend, Julian Cruz, his girlfriend, and I headed out from Jupiter Inlet in his 20-foot Contender. We were out 2 1⁄2 or 3 miles on an artificial reef. I’d already shot a 51-pound cobia, but there were 3- or 4-foot swells, which made the visibility underwater poor. After I got the fish, we moved to another reef.

A bull shark attacked and bit Neumann in the side of his head. Courtesy of Rick Neumann

You usually work it one guy up and one guy down. Julian went first, came up with a fish, and said, “There are cobia down there.” So I dove down to 40 or 45 feet, and the next thing I know, something slams into my head and right shoulder. And I mean hard—like a hit-and-run. Knocked my mask off. I turned and saw him swimming away—a 500- or 600-pound bull shark, maybe 10 feet long. I probably dove right on top of him, and he was showing me who was boss in his kingdom down there. He bit through the wet suit, and part of me, then realized neither one was a fish and just went on his way. He was probably a little confused himself.

I didn’t know exactly how bad it was, but I rushed back to the surface. Then I saw my friends’ faces and knew it was worse than I thought. I reached up to my head and felt my ear hanging by a thread. I put my fingers in the wound—the side of my cheek just below my right ear—and it was deeper than I imagined. Blood spilled out of my ripped wet suit and ran all over the boat. I was wearing a thick one because I’d thought we might hit some cold water. Looking back, that suit probably saved me from a worse bite.

I didn’t know exactly how bad it was, but I rushed back to the surface. Then I saw my friends’ faces and knew it was worse than I thought. I reached up to my head and felt my ear hanging by a thread.

Spearfisherman, Rick Neumann

They called 911 and we headed in. I was sitting on the side rail and holding on to the console. We were running hard, but it still took 45 minutes with that chop. Every time we hit another wave, more blood came gushing out. It was like we were chumming on the way back. My friend kept asking how I was doing. “O.K.,” I said. “But let’s get back as quickly as possible.”

There were all these rescue vehicles at the pier. The EMTs put me on a gurney and cut off the top of my wet suit. I was starting to get dizzy from blood loss. They put me on IVs, then got me on a helicopter to the St. Mary’s Hospital trauma center in West Palm Beach.

I was wheeled into the operating room and met the anesthesiologist. I woke up 200 stitches later. They reattached my ear, and closed up my cheek, the gashes down my neck, and some more on my shoulder and back. These wounds were all from one bite, so it was a big shark. The doc said I was lucky. There are all kinds of arteries and glands in that part of the body that somehow didn’t get hit.

I still have a healthy respect for the ocean, but I’m used to seeing sharks. This was just a bizarre accident in dirty water—more a case of mistaken identity than anything else. Normally a shark is not going to go after a human being. I’ve been spearfishing for more than 50 years, and I’m not going to stop after this. I still like to get in the water and get the adrenaline flowing. Spearfishing is like hunting in the fish’s element. It’s a charge. —Story by Rick Neumann, as told to Bill Heavey