Shark Victim Plans to Swim Again ‘Soon’

Cape Times, 29 November 1976: “I MUST get back into the water soon – otherwise reaction will set in and I may be too scared later on,” 19-year old submariner Jeff Spence told the Cape Times in hospital yesterday, where he is recovering after being savaged by a shark at Clifton on Saturday afternoon.

The strapping young able seaman, who is a Permanent Force rating with the crack Maria van Riebeeck submarine team, was already on his feet a day after a three-metre shark – possibly a blue-pointer – had slashed his back to the bone, in the clear, sun-splashed sea off Clifton’s Fourth beach.

He shrugged off what might have happened had he not been plucked from the blood-stained sea moments before the shark launched a second attack and said: “Statistically my chances at being attacked by a shark again are nil.”

His words were small comfort to this reporter who has seen the film “Jaws” twice. Had he seen the film?

“Funny you should ask that,” said Jeff “because I was imitating to my friend, Robbie, what happened to the girl in the beginning of the film where she is attacked by a great white. We had been swimming out to a couple of yachts anchored close by and were resting for a moment, treading water, when I did my imitation of the girl as she was being pushed along the surface – when suddenly I felt a thump on my side.

“The next moment I was being pushed half out of the sea myself at a fast rate,” he said.

“About 10 metres farther on the shark suddenly let me go and I struggled to keep afloat and yelled “Shark! Shark!” at the top of my voice. It was then that I fully realised what had hit me – it all happened so fast – and I stared down at my own blood discolouring the sea as the shark swam around me.

“The next moment I saw him clearly about a foot from my nose – just under the surface broad-side on. He swam away and I thought ‘well this is it’ – but then some chaps in a dinghy hauled me aboard and started rowing to the shore.

“My friend was yelling his head off because he thought he was next on the shark’s list so the dinghy returned and picked him up as well.”

What did it feel like being crunched by a shark I asked him.

“Well – there was no pain…none at all. In fact I’ve felt almost no pain since the attack either. But I could feel at the time that I was being firmly held – it was impossible to move or do anything about it.

“Anyway at that moment all the old advice of hitting the shark on the nose to deter it seemed hopeless. All you want to do is get away. The shark was swimming with me at tremendous speed and I couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.

Jeff said he had difficulty breathing while on the beach, but this passed as the drugs he was injected with took effect.

It was largely due to a shark trauma medical kit supplied by the Clifton Surf Life Saving Club being on hand within ten minutes of the attack that the shock effect of the bite minimized.

A doctor at the hospital said the wounds on the injured man’s back were severe and deep – it was as though somebody had taken a short jagged blade and slashed deeply along the length of his back from the left shoulder to the right loin.

‘It appears as though the shark was “tasting” him before slicing in for the kill – this would explain why the wounds were more severe on the back than the front, and this attack pattern would accord with the observation of marine biologists and shark experts such as Hans Hass, who say sharks rarely kill on the first go.’

The attack on Jeff Spence almost exactly parallels the last attack by a shark on a swimmer on the Peninsula’s Atlantic side in November 1942, when 18-year-old William Bergh, a medical student, was eaten by a large shark 30 metres from the shore at Clifton’s Fourth Beach.

As was the case with Jeff Spence, the day was calm and clear and the beaches were crowded. A witness who saw the attack through binoculars watched the shark approach Mr Bergh, seize him by the shoulder and lift him out of the water.

Another witness saw the shark swim parallel to the beach and then head to sea in the direction of Bantry Point, carrying its victim. Another eye-witness saw Mr Bergh struggling in the sea.

“The man took a few strokes and then I saw the shark,” he said. “It suddenly leapt at the swimmer and then I saw blood. Shark and man then disappeared.”

Meanwhile, the attack on Jeff Spence at Clifton last Saturday came on the same day that the Cape Times reported a warning by a Department of Sea Fisheries spokesman that sharks were finding fewer fish to satisfy their appetites and could look for new sources of food, including bathers! The reduced clubbing of seals had led to a decrease in the fish population, the spokesman said.

And last week, the Director of the Cape Peninsula Publicity Association, Mr C Davidson, called for an investigation into the shark menace in cape waters by Provincial and local authorities.

In a letter to the Cape Times he said that not only was an investigation needed but action as well.

Shark attacks in colder waters seem to be on the increase. It was commonly supposed that attacks on bathers were almost unheard of where water temperatures were below 20 degrees centigrade, but in recent weeks boats have been attacked on the False Bay and Table Bay sides of the Peninsula “where temperatures have been low.”


Published in Cape Times, 29 November 1976, “Shark victim plans to swim again ‘soon’” By David Willers


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  1. [...] “Well – there was no pain…none at all. In fact I’ve felt almost no pain since the attack either.... cliftonsharkfiles.com/2010/09/the-bite

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