Shark Attack: Cookiecutter Shark Makes First Documented Attack on Human in Hawaii

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Cookiecutter Sharks Travel in Packs

"About 10 minutes after the kayak's bow light was turned on, the victim was bumped by a squid," the study says. "Over the next 20 minutes he was bumped by squid two or three more times in the shoulder and side areas at irregular intervals."

At 10:03, Spalding felt a very sharp pain on his lower chest. "The sensation was instantaneous and localized, like a pin prick, and felt like a bite from a small mouth. The victim yelped and swam over to the kayak."

Less than 15 seconds later, while he was trying to crawl aboard the kayak, the shark hit his left calf. It took a chunk of flesh that was later estimated to be four inches wide and at least an inch and a half deep.

Spalding was rushed to Maui Memorial Hospital, where his doctor, Peter Galpin, a co-author of the study, began treatment. A skin graft was "harvested" from Spalding's left thigh and used to close the open wound.

It took nine months for it to heal.

While Spalding is the best documented victim of a cookiecutter shark attack, the incident has fueled concerns expressed during the years by other scientists, because while this shark is -- fortunately -- a little fish, it travels in schools and is suspected of at least two mob attacks.

In the 1980s, an underwater photographer was "attacked by a swarm of small sharks" and his wounds resembled the scars that have been found in many marine animals that were clearly the work of cookiecutters.

And a 1955 report told of a shipwrecked crew in the mid-Atlantic, just north of the equator, who "were greatly bothered by the attacks of an extremely ferocious small fish less than a foot long and blunt nosed. These small fish swam in schools and were very persistent. The bites were clean cut and upwards of an inch or more deep."

But these are rare cases, and usually happen at night far from shore in tropical waters, where humans rarely swim. On the other hand, the study notes that the shark's "hit and run feeding behavior" is a little troubling.

The cookiecutter doesn't spend a lot of time analyzing the situation and it has no fear of larger creatures, so a human swimmer might just be a "novel potential prey item" for the shark.

The scientists suggest that special care should be taken when swimming at night in tropical waters "near man-made illumination, during periods of bright moonlight, or in the presence of bioluminescent organisms."

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