A SHARK attack survivors club is giving victims the chance to come to terms with horror attacks that wounded them or took their loved ones as deaths surge worldwide.
Bite Club was founded by surfer Dave Pearson after he was savaged by a three-metre bull shark off the coast of New South Wales, Australia.
Club members and those they have helped have suffered bloody shark bites and horror experiences – including one husband who discovered his wife’s intestines on a beach after she was attacked – as they try to come to terms with the trauma.
It now has hundreds of members across the world including survivors, the heroic rescuers who risked their lives to save them, and family members of the victims of fatal attacks.
It also includes people who have suffered of vicious dog maulings, alligator bites and even a shocking hippo attack.
“My life is shark attacks. You know if there’s a shark attack somewhere in the world, I’ll hear about it,” he told AFP this week.
The club now uses psychiatrists to help those suffering – including victims targeted by twisted trolls who blame THEM for being attacked.
“Our group is not about sharks… it’s all about overcoming you own fears,” Dave said.
It comes as more people were killed in unprovoked shark attacks last year than in any year since 2013 – with ten deaths.
Dave revealed last year was a particularly “bad year” for horror shark attacks with at least a dozen recorded in Australia and many more overseas.
Bite Club – and its charity Beyond the Bite – was formed after Dave, 58, learned the scars sharks left behind by man-eaters were not just physical.
That realisation dawned when a fellow surfer who helped save his life later broke down while admitting: “I haven’t been able to sleep.”
I was looking at blood spurting and I thought, ‘That doesn’t look right’
Dave vividly recalls the moment the shark attacked and his amazing survival when his surfboard became wedged in the predator’s jaws.
It was a terrifying ordeal which left him suffering PTSD after the “euphoria” of his brush with death quickly died down.
The 660lb shark bit down on his left arm, crunched into the board and slammed its nose into the left side of his face cracking his skull.
“A big flap of skin had come right off,” Dave previously said. “I was looking at blood spurting and I thought, ‘That doesn’t look right.’”
The attack lasted no longer than 10 seconds but he – like many others – is still haunted by his shark encounter.
In hospital, Dave met 24-year-old Lisa Mondy, who had suffered bites to her face and arm while wakeboarding just a week before he was attacked.
Lisa had been attacked by a great white shark in an experience which she described in 2016 as leaving the water red with blood.
“I was pretty much looking down its throat. It took my brachial artery out of my arm, along with a lot of muscle and veins, and severed three of the four major nerves in my arm,” she said.
“It was extremely close to the artery in my neck, too.”
The four metre beast attacked her so quickly she first through she had been hit by a boat – but she managed to recover and later appeared on the Australian version of the X-Factor.
After meeting Lisa, Dave realised he was able to cope with the experience more easily than her and tried to counsel her as best he could.
Shark attacks by numbers since 2010
THE International Shark Attack File releases an annual summary of the previous year’s unprovoked shark attacks every January
- 2010 – 82 Attacks, 6 Fatal
- 2011 – 79 Attacks, 13 Fatal
- 2012 – 83 Attacks, 7 Fatal
- 2013 – 77 Attacks, 10 Fatal
- 2014 – 73 Attacks, 3 Fatal
- 2015 – 98 Attacks, 6 Fatal
- 2016 -81 Attacks, 4 Fatal
- 2017 – 89 Attacks, 5 Fatal
- 2018 – 68 Attacks, 4 Fatal
- 2019 – 64 Attacks, 2 Fatal
- 2020 – 57 Attacks, 10 Fatal
“You can look in someone’s eyes who has been there…it’s connection you just don’t get with someone else,” Dave revealed.
“When you can sit there and look into the eyes and you can say ‘you know exactly what I’m thinking’ it is a life changing moment.”
He told ABC of his club: “We now have 350 members worldwide. We have rescuers, responders, shark attack survivors…we all also have family members of those that didn’t survive.”
“Everybody was there to wish me the best, but until I spoke with Lisa it was like, they didn’t really understand what my head was going through,” he told AFP.
The only part left was her intestines which I picked up while searching for her body
When Dave was released from hospital, he soon began to get in touch with other survivors.
Each time there was a news report about a shark attack, he would call the hospital and ask to speak to the victim.
Lisa and Dave returned to the water together in 2012, along with attack survivor Glenn Orgias, and the experience had laid the foundations for Bite Club.
Bite Club helped the family of Christine Armstrong, who was was killed by a shark during a morning swim at Tathra, south of Sydney.
“The only part left was her intestines which I picked up while searching for her body,” her husband David later revealed on Facebook.
Another member is Dale Carr who was attacked by a great white shark as he paddled out to the surf at Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie, north of Sydney.
“I felt a sudden jolt under the board and I saw this big dorsal fin,” he said.
“It sort of moved left and disappeared. Then all of a sudden its head came on to my thigh.
“I struck it a couple of times but that was like hitting a suitcase full of concrete.”
Ray Short was 13 years old in 1966 when a shark clamped down on his leg while swimming near Wollongong.
“It’s just something that was never there when I was young,” he said of the club.
“If you got to meet or hear from one or two other shark bite victims, it was amazing.
“Now there’s a group there that can all sit and relate to each other.”
Another of those helped by the club was Joel Mason, who was savaged by a shark at Nambucca Heads, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on Australia’s east coast.
Dave contacted Joel as he lay in hospital recovering from his horrific ordeal.
“It was so great to talk to someone super positive,” said Joel.
“We just sat and chatted for a couple of hours about his ordeal and the different people who make up Bite Club.
“Initially for me it was just great to have somebody to talk to who had the same experience.”
Joel says along with Bite Club, the support and expertise of hospital staff helped him through those initial weeks following the attack.
Scientists suggest shifting hunting grounds, the weather, an increase in staycations, overfishing and even “chance” may have played a role in the recent spike in attacks.
Out of those killed in 2020, seven died in Australia alone – the country’s highest number in 86 years.
The three fatalities outside of Australia occurred in the US and the Caribbean.
Professor Robert Harcourt, a researcher of shark behaviour, suggested La Nina may be leading to bull sharks heading to waters were people swim.
He said the increased rain triggered by the event could reduce salinity of the water, and push salmon and other fish closer to the shore.
Harcourt said: “The sharks are responding to where their prey will most likely be.”
Dr Simon Allen, Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia’s School of Biological Sciences, linked the increase in attacks to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “People in Western Australia that would normally be holidaying in Bali or elsewhere are now holidaying around Western Australia.
“Regional tourism has exploded this year and there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of recreational fishing and other uses of coastal waters.”
Bite Club members are urged to get back in amongst the waves to help them overcome their ordeal.
Dave said: “One of the things I try to do is introduce them back into the ocean. Whenever I can get somewhere where there is another survivor I will go for a surf or dive with them.
“As strange as it sounds one of the places I like to do that is at their attack place as it something we need to make peace with.”
The club now has it’s own charity to help fund counselling sessions and help attack survivors get their lives back on track.
Dave also revealed not all predators lurk in the depths of the sea.
He revealed: “I was astounded by some of the comments which appeared on social media about my attack.
“People were telling me what had actually occurred in the water who were nowhere near the event.
“They’d assumed that I was surfing in the dark and I has caused the shark to come and get me. I was treated like the enemy of the ocean.”