'This is bad': Florida woman tells how she slugged shark to swim another day
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Judy Fischman knows a shark tail when she sees one.
And the last time she saw one, it left her with quite a shark tale.
Fischman considers herself lucky to be alive after a shark swam under her and lifted her out of the water while as many as three other sharks swam nearby.
The encounter lasted just seconds and might be hard to believe if not for witnesses on the shore at Bethune Park in New Smyrna Beach.
The incident caught the attention of nationally recognized shark expert George Burgess, who initially cast doubt by suggesting it might have been a whale or porpoise.
Fischman wishes he were right, but says he's not.
"When he [Burgess] first told me he thought it was a mammal, I tried to hold that thought for a while because it was a whole lot more comforting than what actually happened," she said. "If it was a small whale, that's just fine."
But when Fischman was lifted out of the water, she was facing the back of the fish.
"I saw what definitely was a shark tail," said Fischman, 59.
And that tail was attached to a fish she estimates to have been at least 8 feet long.
'This is bad'
Fischman, who tries to swim every day, likes to go out beyond the breakers, perhaps 200 feet from shore, where the water is still just 4 to 6 feet deep and calm.
That's where she was Aug. 5 when she felt something large bump against her.
Fischman said she hoped it was a manatee. That has happened to her before.
"Within a second or two, I was lifted out of the water," she said. "I realized I'm sitting on and I'm facing the tail of this thing. And I look at the tail and that is a shark tail."
Not only that, but there was another shark swimming beside her, close enough that she could have reached out and touched it and she saw two other dark shapes in the water.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God. This is bad.'"
There are many shark bites along the Volusia County coast, but most of them occur to the north at Ponce Inlet, an area nicknamed The Shark Bite Capital of the World.
Most of the victims are surfers or people wading in the water who get in the way of sharks chasing schools of fish.
"To me, it was immediately obvious that I had been hunted," she said. She wasn't about to jump off the shark because of the others in the water and she resisted screaming because she didn't want to startle the shark. Besides, she was so far out no one would have heard her anyway.
Then she remembered reading that you should try to hurt the shark.
"It's better to punch it in the face or eye, but I was facing the tail."
She punched it twice on its side and as it started to roll, then she punched it on its abdomen.
Suddenly it wrapped its tail around her, "and then it was gone. There was a large wave, and I realized I was no longer on the shark. So she swam as hard as she could.
Witnesses saw fight
When she reached the beach, she found witnesses who had seen her fighting with the shark. "They thought I was being eaten," she said.
She did have a scrape on one leg, but she is not sure if it was from the shark or from falling on a sandbar as she rushed to the shore.
One of the witnesses said she saw four sharks swimming along the shore and suddenly head toward Fischman.
Those witnesses lend credibility to her story, said Burgess, director of shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History and also the director of the International Shark Attack File, which tracks shark-human interaction worldwide.
Burgess said he's still reviewing the case, but points out the witnesses and Fischman describe as many as four animals in the water.
Sharks of this size normally don't travel in pairs or more, he said.
"I don't have doubt about the story, but it's a matter of interpretation on what it was," Burgess said. "The woman was clearly lucky if it was a shark because if it was as big as she said, she could have a very severe injury."
Both the woman and the witnesses are convinced it was a shark, said Burgess. "If I had to make a call," he said, "I would probably say it was a shark." It looked like a tiger shark to Fischman, who was back in the ocean one day after the encounter.
"I did not want to become afraid of the water."
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