MICHAEL HEALEY – SHARK ATTACK VICTIM - THE MIRACLE OF AMANZIMTOTI
I am not an expert on sharks and shark attacks, but learnt a lot about shark’s way back in 1961, when, as a junior lifesaver, and employee of the Amanzimtoti Town Council, assisted the shark net boat crews to position and maintain the shark nets at Inyoni Rocks.
Dr. Davies was head of the Natal Shark Board (The only one of its kind in the world) to study the behavior of various species of sharks and ways to reduce the number of historically high number of shark attacks on popular bathing beaches on the Natal coast.
Shark nets were her idea and they were positioned in evenly spaced sections approximately 100 meters behind the backline. (Where the first waves start forming out to sea).
These evenly spaced sets of approximately 6 nets, which were not huge and had lots of space around the sides, were suspended from floats with the top of the nets below the surface and the bottom above the sea bed with weights and anchors attached.
The theory was that as the sharks moved close to the more popular beaches along that coast, they would sense the movement of the nets in the swells and move further out to sea and not move into the bathing areas.
Sharks don’t rely entirely on their eye sight for food, and are able to sense various types of movement in murky water where they are known to hunt.
If you stroke a dead shark from head to tail, you will feel a silky smooth surface – brush it the other way and you feel a very rough bristly surface, which bristles allow it to sense unusual movements in the water at longer distances than their eye sight.
I call them the Hyena’s of the sea as they are hunters and scavengers and any sea gulls floating on the surface, slow moving fish species, flapping or splashing sick fish, birds or humans on the surface will attract their attention. Even wet suits trawled from the back of a boat will be attacked.
The problem with the shark nets was that when sharks moved along the coast, close to shore and approached a shark net protected beach, many did not immediately see or sense the nets and move further out to sea – away from the beaches and public bathing areas - but ended up inside the nets, and close to bathing beaches. When returning to deeper waters they sensed the movement of the nets and became nervous of this unknown “obstacle”, and headed directly out to sea, with most of them getting their gills entangled in the nets and drowning. Most of them were caught on the land side of the nets.
Working off of 2 ski boats in big swells was not easy for eight strong life savers to lift shark laden nets on-board in order to extricate the shark carcasses from the nets before re-positioning or replacing the damaged nets. The carcasses were taken ashore and ended up on refuse dumps, but the odd ragged tooth jaw was cut out of a carcass and boiled in 44 gallon drums on the beach for the teeth that were highly sought after by surfers and their girl friends to make necklaces.
Dr. Davies soon realized that too many sharks were been killed in the nets and the need to protect them had to be considered. A link to The Natal Sharks Board web site is available at the end of this item and it reveals up to date thinking on protecting sharks and bathers and surfers in Natal.
It was a very hot and humid week day in mid December in 1961 - when - as one of a number of paid junior lifesavers at Inyoni Rocks, Amanzimtoti - I had to assist the professional lifesavers control large crowds of bathers.
The surf was a bit rough, and we had to be absolutely vigilant, restricting the public bathing area to a huge sand bank on the northern side of Inyoni Rocks. We had different teams working shifts during the day - and being “shark attack season” - were happy that our nets were in place and protecting bathers.
Garry Player used to often holiday in Amanzimtoti and was on the beach that day and called some of the off-duty lifesavers over to chat. I will never forget his flat top haircut and pink Cadillac with flags on the front fenders in the parking lot.
My best friend and class mate – Michael Healey – was on the beach that day with a friend from Johannesburg and he approached me to enquire whether he and his friend could join us (lifesavers) later in the afternoon when an off duty group of lifesavers, swam out to the backline to body surf. Michael assured us that his friend was a good swimmer and I knew he was a good surfer. The senior lifesavers agreed provided they did not enter the water before the group of lifesavers did.
Michael, his friend, John Forde ( am pretty sure it was John Forde) and I got together a long way up the beach – away from the public – waiting for the rest of the group to join us before entering the surf to prevent the public bathers following us out to the backline of waves. It was customary to swim out in a group.
For some unknown reason Michael disregarded the instruction to swim in a group and entered the surf. He was about 20 meters from the beach, when he was suddenly thrown into the air and we witnessed him furiously punching a shark that was biting him. He was struggling for his life. This thrashing and fighting only lasted a minute or two. John and I dived into the surf and without any negative thoughts we swam the 20 meters to assist him. We did not have time to think or be scared.
Sirens at the lifesaving clubhouse went off and the public hurriedly evacuated the surf. It was chaotic.
Before we could get to him and to our surprise, a middle aged couple who were on the northern edge of the public bathing area, on a large sand bank - reached him a few seconds before we did and supported him.
The four of us did our best to keep him together (me holding his intestines and outer layer of his stomach in place with crossed arms), while walking him back to the beach.
Thank goodness for the doctors who were waiting on the edge of the beach for us and who lay him down in the sand while trying to stop serious bleeding. They were not concerned about the waves and sea sand breaking onto them and Michael – they were focused on stopping the excessive bleeding before moving him into the Lifesavers clubhouse where they worked on him for a couple of hours before loading him into a waiting ambulance. He fought like a Trojan to stay alive and never passed out from the time of the attack to the time he arrived in the operating theatre.
Michael asked one of the doctors to call me into the clubhouse so that he could personally ask me to break the bad news to his mother who lived in Warner Beach.
He was called the miracle of Amanzimtoti because he survived one of South Africa’s worst shark attacks. He had approximately 50 operations over a fairly long period of time. Talking to him some years later he showed me parts of his body where sea sand was still finding its way out of his body
It is believed that he was taken by a Zambezi Raged tooth Shark
Please visit the sites listed below for more interesting and informative information on shark attacks.
http://sacoast.ioisa.org.za/education/e ... twhite.pdf