Why would you believe me when I tell you not to be afraid of sharks? I have every reason, and all my limbs, to argue on their behalf because they help pay my bills. Millions of divers flock to the ocean every year to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to dive with sharks. So why as a divemaster would I give you any reason not to get in the water with me and the sharks? It would be ludicrous, and one more nail in my career coffin. So let me introduce you to Diego Intriago, a good friend of mine from the Galapagos, avid surfer, diver and ocean-lover. He has every reason to put the fear of sharks in you, because he survived a gory attack by one. In fact, I very narrowly missed the chance to be with him during the incident because my surfboard (the one Diego lent to me) suffered a debilitating fracture, the day before the incident. That day he invited me to surf but without a board I had to pass up on what would have been the surfing day of a lifetime. But this isn’t my story, it’s Diego’s. So here’s what went down, and how he feels nearly 4 years after the incident.
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So why does a man who was has every reason to fear and hate sharks advocate getting in the water with them? The reason lies in the life history and role that sharks play in nature. They are of critical importance to the health of the ocean, and therefore to our own health, and they are currently in dire straits. Without them and other keystone species, the very food chain as we know it is in imminent danger of collapse. Ultimately, we owe them a second look, and in reality much more in the way of protection and respect.
Check out Part 3: Sharks...Man's Real Best Friend & 5 Ways You Can Be Theirs to read the concluding post to this 3 part series, and see what makes sharks so important.
A: Can you describe the events of the day?
D: Sure... it was May 14, 2013, mid-day, and I was surfing with three friends. It was low tide, a perfect day... good waves, clear water, but the shore water was stirred up because the waves were strong. A friend caught a wave all the way to shore, and when he paddled back out he told me something had hit his leg pretty hard. When I had gotten in the water, I saw a bunch of mullet feeding near the shore, and I told my friend it was probably one of them that hit his leg. I didn’t think too much about it. The moment after my friend said this I caught the next wave and I rode it nearly all the way in. As it broke up, I dived into the water and floated there for a second, pulling my board back towards me to swim back out.
A: ...and at the instant of contact, what did you feel?
D: I felt like something was coming up behind me, and as I turned it grabbed my leg and shook hard. I swung at it to make it let me go until it finally did.
A: When you realized it was a shark that had hit you, what was the first thought that crossed your mind?
D: I got onto the board, lifted my leg and realized immediately that it had been a shark by the shape of the injury and the force with which I had been hit. The first thing I thought was to get out of the water, so I paddled super hard with the next wave to reach the shore.
A: In the following days, what did you feel with respect to sharks? Did you at any point feel any anger or hatred towards them?
D: I never felt any hatred towards them, neither before, nor after. We surfers have made their home our amusement park; we enter their territory. The sea is their home, where they belong!
A: How much time did you spend healing, and when did you first get back in the water?
D: I got 82 stitches, and then spent 5 months in healing, going through therapy and spending time in the hyperbaric chamber to help with the healing process, until I finally returned to the same spot where it happened to get back in the water.
A: Before the incident, how much time would you spend in the water every week? And now?
D: I spent 5 or 6, sometimes 7 days a week in the water for long hours at a time before the incident, and I spend just as much time in the water now.
A: What do you tell people who ask about your scar?
D: Well (laughing)...sometimes I lie! I tell them that it was a bike accident or that I burned myself. I don’t want to scare them. There are times when I do tell the truth and I try to use myself as an example of why they don’t have to be afraid, that the risk of attack is so minimal, and that in reality if they see one, they should remain calm and don’t be nervous because they are in the shark's home, and what’s more... it’s a super cool experience to see them in the water where they belong.
A: Which species of shark bit you? Do you know how big it was?
D: It could have been a Galapagos shark or a black-tip shark, I don’t know exactly…but from the size of the bite mark they calculated it was a little more than 2 meters long.
A: What is your favorite species of shark and why?
D: I don’t have a favorite to be honest...I love them all for their shape, the way each one fits into its own habitat perfectly.
A: How has your perspective regarding sharks changed?
D: In no way, shape or form has it changed. I continue to have the same respect for sharks that I had before. I love sharks, they are a fundamental part of our ocean and I do whatever I can to continue protecting them. I don’t fear them, and I never will; I love to see them when I am surfing...it means that their populations are recovering and that they’re living in an environment filled with life.
A: What would you say to those who are afraid of sharks?
D: I think that after what happened to me, not many people would return to the water with the same enthusiasm that I did. The probability of being attacked again is so tiny. I always tell people that they should not be afraid because sharks are not interested in humans, and if they ever do bite a human, it’s a case of mistaken identity, not because they want to hurt us.