Shark 'just defending itself'

BITE MARKS: Lydia Ward, 14, showing the teeth holes in her wetsuit and the bodyboard she used to fend off a shark, likely similar to the one pictured, after it latched on to her right hip at Oreti Beach on Monday.
BITE MARKS: Lydia Ward, 14, showing the teeth holes in her wetsuit and the bodyboard she used to fend off a shark, likely similar to the one pictured, after it latched on to her right hip at Oreti Beach on Monday.

A 14-year-old Invercargill girl bitten on the right hip by a shark at Oreti Beach on Monday night believes it was defending itself.

Recovering at home yesterday, Lydia Ward said she bore no ill feeling towards the shark, which reacted after she stepped on it twice.

Lydia, who was at the beach with her parents and 10-year-old brother Alex, said she was in chest-deep surf about to catch her last wave when the encounter happened about 6.30pm. "When I first stood on it I tried to tell myself it was piece of driftwood."

But her imagination took over, she said.

"I thought it was a body ... I dunno ... It was cold and slippery but soft, like it gave way a bit."

She tried to move away before placing her feet down again.

Her second footfall caused the shark to reel round – latching its jaws around her right thigh towards her buttock.

"I looked at my brother and he just said `whoa' ... then I saw this massive grey thing twisting in the water."

Initially, Lydia did not realise the shark had her in its jaws. "I didn't feel anything ... then I saw some blood in the water."

Then she remembered something she had read.

"I had read to get them (sharks) away you hit them on the head, so I hit it with my body board."

The shark released its grip, but traces of blood in the water meant she thought it might come back, Lydia said. "I was so frustrated because I couldn't run."

Her parents initially did not believe her when she caught her breath and told them what had happened – until they saw the puncture marks in her wetsuit and the blood, Lydia said.

Her brother estimated the shark was about 1.5m long.

While her wetsuit was left with a set of holes after the shark's teeth sliced through the fabric, her only injuries were two puncture wounds about 22cm apart, she said.

Department of Conservation spokesman Reuban Williams said the department's scientists believed the shark was likely to be a small broadnose sevengill shark.

Ironically, the same good weather that prompted people to go to the beach brought sharks closer to shore to feed, he said.

Not known to be aggressive, that species of shark would react if it felt threatened, he said.

"She (Lydia) did exactly the right thing giving it a bit of a nudge."

Mr Williams urged the public not to panic, before referring to Steven Spielberg's classic frightener Jaws and its tagline "don't go in the water".

"The Jaws factor doesn't really help us ... if you do go into the water, sharks are always present."

People had more chance of being struck by a car or mauled by a dog than bitten by a shark, he said.

Despite the odds, Lydia, whose story yesterday was reported throughout New Zealand and around the world, said she planned to stick to swimming in rivers and lakes from now on.

She will return to school today with the ultimate school holiday story.


Lydia Ward's story not only dominated New Zealand headlines, as of last night it was the fourth most read story on the BBC News website, had been reported by the United Kingdom's Times Online, The Telegraph, South Africa's The Independent Online, Australia's ABC online, and on Germany's HNA.DE.

Monday's reported attack was the first at Oreti Beach since New Year's Eve 1999, when four Invercargill teens were bitten by sharks in the surf. Then 13-year-old Jenny McDowell was swimming at the beach with friends when a broadnose sevengill shark bit her left arm to the bone – severing her ulna artery. Jennifer's friend Genna Hayward, also 13, cut her hand and 16-year-old Tim Wild, who was surfing, suffered six puncture wounds to his leg.

A month later, high school student Michael Petas was surfing with two friends when he also was bitten leaving holes in his wetsuit.

The last fatal shark attack in New Zealand was at Te Kaha, in the Bay of Plenty, in 1976.

Members of the Southland surfing community spoken to by The Southland Times say shark bites in southern waters are reasonably common, but most go unreported.