Friday 5 August 2022 10:25 PM Diver PAUL DE GELDER describes the moment a 700lb giant sank its 350 ... trends now
One moment I was swimming across Sydney Harbour, the next my right leg was clamped in the jaws of a 9ft bull shark.
As someone who had grown up in Australia — which reports an average of 20 shark attacks a year — it was the moment I had been dreading all my life.
But my fighting instinct kicked in. As every schoolboy knows, if you’re attacked by a shark, punch it in the eye. That was the one option denied to me as my right hand was pinned by its teeth to my leg.
And the bull shark has more teeth than any other species. They may grow to just one inch, but a bull has 50 rows of them, with seven teeth in each row, making 350 in all. And what they lack in size they make up for in needle-like sharpness.
I attempted a counter-attack with my left hand. That’s when it started to shake me like a rag doll. Folklore may have the great white as the most feared denizen of the deep, but there is nothing as terrifyingly aggressive as a bull shark.
Motivational speaker, author and Navy Reserve, Paul de Gelder lost both an arm and a leg when he was attacked by a male bull shark during an anti-terrorism exercise in Sydney Harbour in February 2009
Paul de Gelder pictured with a shark. He said: 'My first time meeting tiger sharks in the Bahamas was one to remember. A few years later I got to teach Will Smith how to do it'
As its teeth worked through my flesh and bone like saws I was overcome by the most intense pain imaginable. All the fight went out of me and I started to choke on the bloody water as the 700lb behemoth began to pull me down. Now I really did feel sure I was going to die.
I’ll never know why it let me go. Maybe it had tasted enough of my flesh to know I wasn’t its usual meal. Whatever the reason, it released its grip and plunged off to find more familiar prey.
As I bobbed back to the surface, I became aware that not only was there a thick coating of blood on the water, but more was pouring out of me every second. How long before more bull sharks were attracted by the scent of blood?
Fortunately, I was in Sydney Harbour as a member of the Royal Australian Navy’s specialist diving unit, taking part in a counter-terrorism exercise that involved swimming around the warships of naval base HMS Kuttabul. I had the presence of mind to keep my lacerated arm out of the water and above my heart to slow the bleeding as I headed for the safety boat.
I saw the look of horror on the faces of my teammates as they hauled me in and so I did what soldiers do, and cracked a joke. Then I closed my eyes and prepared to bleed to death.
I owe my survival to the nerve and quick-thinking of one of the lads who shoved his hand inside my leg and held my severed artery closed with his fingers until I could be handed over to the battalion of doctors, nurses, service personnel and blood donors who combined to save my life. Several operations later, I woke up to find that I was missing half an arm and a leg.
Since that day in February 2009, I have had plenty of time to reflect on what happened and work out why I had become a target of every swimmer’s nightmare.
Paul de Gelder lost his right arm and leg after he was attacked a 9ft bull shark in Sydney Harbour in February 2009
Mr de Gelder says the gruesome shark attack encouraged him to become an advocate for the predators
Part of the reason may have been that I had been lying on my back in the water and using rubber fins on my feet to propel myself.
Slapping a flipper against water creates the kind of low-frequency soundwaves that sharks are attuned to and that’s probably what drew the bull to me. As it was early in the morning and overcast, and given that the water was muddy brown, the bull shark