This Sunday, at the legendary right in Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa, pro surfer Mick Fanning was approached by what was believed to be a Great White shark. Fanning got bumped off his board and struggled in an intense encounter, grabbing for his board and punching at the shark as fans watched with horror from the shore and fellow World Surf League finalist Julian Wilson watched from the water just a short distance away.
Mick fended off the shark and was swiftly rescued by event staff on jet skis, who whisked him away and left his board with its bitten leash in the water. Video of the incident has gone viral all over the world–you've no doubt seen it yourself. But there's a much bigger story here than what happened in those few seconds:
#1: It Was The Scariest Moment in Mick Fanning's Life
Fanning embraces fellow J-Bay finals competitor Julian Wilson, who courageously paddled to his aid when he saw the shark's fin. Photo via Mick's Instagram.
No surprise there, according to a post on Fanning's Instagram following the event: "So thankful to be able to have this hug with @julian_wilson this man came to my aid like a warrior!! It was by far the scariest thing I have ever been through and am still rattled. In our sport we always think about sharks and know we are in their domain. Many thanks to all the people that have reached out and sent their wishes. Jbay is an incredible place and I will go back one day. Thanks to the @wsl announcers and water patrol for being on top of us and the care they showed us and to all my friends on tour that were by my side. Love you all."
#2: Julian Wilson Actually Swam TOWARDS the Shark When He Saw Its Fin
Competitor Julian Wilson, 26, was competing against Mick in the heat and was watching his positioning when he saw the shark's fin pop up behind him, and Fanning go down. A wave popped up, blocking Wilson's view, and he was sure his friend had gone under. "I couldn't get there quick enough," he said in the above interview. Julian has been heralded as a hero, and his tearful, emotional reaction to the incident is powerful.
#3: It Probably Wasn't Actually A Shark "Attack"
Don't mind me, just cruising around looking for seals... Terry Goss photo via Wikimedia.
Even while "the media" is calling this event a shark attack (and we did, too), professional biologists say there's little evidence to support the idea that the shark was actually trying to attack Mick. The UK's Business Insider interviewed Dr. Allison Kock of Shark Spotters, and from her experience, the fact that Mick wasn't bitten suggests the shark wasn't attacking, but rather "investigating."
She also notes that in the video of the incident, you can see the shark's rear fin splashing, which to her suggests the shark got caught in the leash (which it eventually bit through) and was trying to swim down and away from Mick. She gives Fanning serious credit, though, for lashing out at the shark and keeping hold of his board, both of which she thinks deterred the shark from doing anything further.
#4: Derek Hynd Was In The Water An Hour After the Incident
OG Australian surfer, Derek Hynd, age 57, was in the lineup surfing a giant 11'6" finless board just one hour after Mick fought off the shark. Him and a few other brave, brave locals took to J-Bay after it was whiped clean of pro competitors following the cancelation of the remainder of the event. His logic for going out? "Generally," he said, "they're following the dolphins down, who are following other fish down." Which means, I guess, the sharks are gone. Okay... you first!
#5: INVENTORS ARE DEVELOPING SHARK-DETERRING WETSUITS
In response to a high number of shark attacks in his home turf of Western Australia, Ozzie ocean swimmer Hamish Jolly worked with a group of scientists to develop wetsuits that would mimic natural warning signs of marine life in the ocean–such as bright striping–along with ones with a more cryptic design that would "hide" the wearer in the water column. Most wetsuits come in jet black, which, especially when silhouetted against the bright sky above, can look at awful lot like a seal.
#6: There Has Been One Fatal Shark Attack, Ever, At J-Bay
Infographic via TheBombSurf.com.
South Africa is synonymous with Great Whites, but there's only ever been one fatal Great White attack at Jeffrey's Bay ever, in 2013. While Stab Mag mentioned it as one of the 10 sharkiest surf breaks in the world, there's been a lot more attacks farther west in Gansbaai, the White shark capital of the world, and farther northeast up toward Durban. While that all sounds pretty terrifying, keep in mind that Florida is actually the overall shark capital of the world. 'Murica!!
#7: This Throws A Wrench In The World Tour Rankings
Brazilian Adriano de Souza stays on top of the rankings by just 250 out of his 33,200 points. World Surf League photo.
The immediate cancellation of the J-Bay stop of the World Surf League tour–it falls under the Tour's 'force majuere event' clause–definitely threw a wrench in the overall rankings. Julian and Mick were competing against each other in the finals when the shark encounter happened, and the winner could have had the chance to jump in front of de Souza and into first place overall.
What happened instead, though, is that both competitors defaulted into second place, giving them 8,000 points apiece. That moved Fanning and Wilson into second and third place, respectively, and put Fanning just 250 points behind the overall out of a total of over 33,000 points. Talk about close.
Thankfully, though, the Tour is only halfway done, and another five events remain before the overall winner is crowned at the Banzai Pipeline in December. That give the tightly-packed top five, who are separated by just over 5,000 points, plenty of time to change leads before they paddle out at the North Shore for the final event. Of course, that's assuming Fanning is mentally ready and willing to get back in the water by the time next month's Teahupo'o event gets underway.
#8: It was a great media event for surfing, but a shit one for sharks
Google "Mick Fanning shark attack" and you'll turn up over twelve million results, pulling in links from everywhere you could hope to get media coverage– CNN, the BBC, and yes, even the professional gossip whores over at People Magazine and TMZ. As evidenced by the (hilarious) viral meme above, plenty of people are talking about how much of a badass Mick is for punching the shark until it left him be, and surfing on the whole definitely won itself some respect from Middle America Sunday.
On the flipside, sharks again look evil. They're just out there, doing their thing, looking for seals and fish and stuff, and, on very rare occasions, investigating some new potential prey that they turn away from as soon as they realize it's not what they're looking for (i.e., a surfboard). Of course, those poor guys don't have a PR rep or any Instagram accounts to get out their side of the story, so instead they'll just get portrayed as mindless killers again and definned for soups in Asia, which blows.