Rare shark attack in popular surf spot

BE WARNED: One of the warning signs made by locals at Porpoise Bay Beach following a shark attack.
BE WARNED: One of the warning signs made by locals at Porpoise Bay Beach following a shark attack.

Southland locals say a bloody shark attack, in which a man had to punch his way free after being bitten three times, is a first for the area.

The 28-year-old man was on his board about 50m out from Porpoise Bay Beach, near Curio Bay, about 8.30pm on Friday when the attack occurred, police said. He punched the shark in the face to free himself from its grip.

The man was bitten three times from his thigh to his calf and there was "lots of blood", a police spokesman said.

The attack was a shock to everyone in the Catlins area, surf school owner Nick Smart said.

"Mate, it's the first time there has ever been a shark attack in the Catlins and there has never been a shark attack in this bay.

"There's been so many dolphins in the bay over the last few days as well.

"I've spent thousands of hours in this shore break and the thought [of a shark attack] doesn't even cross my mind ... but it does now."

Smart said the victim had surgery after the attack and he understood that although the leg was swollen, the operation had gone to plan.

"He definitely had a couple of good gashes in his leg, but no arterial cuts. He was unlucky . . . it's just unbelievable."

Hospital authorities said today that the man was "doing well" and was in a general ward.

Conservation Department marine scientist and shark expert Clinton Duffy said those entering the surf early in the morning, or after dusk, should realise they were doing so during traditional feeding times for sharks.

"Around dawn and dusk, particularly dusk, you should be thinking twice about sitting out the back of the surf . . . or swimming out to the back of the surf break," Duffy said. "Hands and feet in the water look very pale . . . sharks are strongly attracted to highly contrasting objects."

The man's friends believed it to be a sevengill shark, although they couldn't be sure of that, and thought it was about 2m-3m in length, Smart said.

Smart was in the water giving a lesson at the time of the attack, about 50m away from the victim. He said the man was not a local but a frequent surfer at that spot. "He was sitting on his surfboard and the shark came up from nowhere and hit him. He struggled for a bit and then punched the shark and it let him go."

The man then made his own way to shore before being assisted by a doctor and a nurse, who just happened to be at the beach, Smart said.

They applied a tourniquet and gave him first aid and blankets while they waited for an ambulance. The man was surprisingly calm throughout the entire ordeal, Smart said.

"He was totally coherent and talking. He was definitely in a bit of pain but he handled it really well. His partner was on the beach and she was right there as well so he had a lot of support."

Smart had closed his surf school yesterday but was planning to open today.

Some locals have erected home-made signs at various entrances to the beach warning that there had been a shark attack.

Sunday Star Times