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November 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hammerhead on the California Coast: “It Kept Coming At Me”

from the November, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

With the ocean temperatures off the California coast much warmer than usual, creatures normally found farther south are making surprise appearances. Matt Lum, a freediver in Santa Cruz, CA, had an encounter with one while spearfishing on September 22nd, and he shared his story in an e-mail.

I was attacked by a hammerhead while diving Yellow Banks on the back side of Santa Cruz. I had a yellowtail on my stringer, attached to my back, and was fighting with another I had just speared when I got slammed in my left hip, full speed, by a 10-foot hammerhead shark.

When it started twisting its head to rip off flesh, its teeth, fortunately, ended up getting caught in my wetsuit. I punched it in the eyes and head, but it would not be stopped. It kept coming, swinging its head back and forth, with its jaws snapping at me. I guess they don't see well up close, due to their eyes being at the ends of their hammer, and I couldn't understand why it was coming at me instead of the fish.

I shoved everything I could into its mouth -- my fins, my spear shaft -- and grabbed the yellowtail on my shooting line and shoved it into the shark's mouth, just as it was coming at my face. Then I ditched my gun, knowing it was attached to my float, and kicked back to the boat fast, trailing a stream of blood out of my wetsuit. I called my dive buddy back to the boat, threw the anchor on a buoy, jammed over to another friend, diving off a nearby boat with his young son, and got them out of the water.

When we came back to pick up my float, the shark came up with the gun. The shark had swallowed the entire yellowtail, which was on my shooting line, not my shaft. My shooting line was cable, so the shark's teeth didn't cut it, and the line was coming out of its stomach and mouth. I subdued the shark by holding its head while my dive buddy cut the line with cable cutters. Quite a sketchy procedure considering we were on an inflatable boat.

Yes, I thought I was dead, and yes, I'm still in shock. I'm okay, but it could have been so much worse.

Note from Ben: Kudos to Matt for trying to save the shark, not seeking revenge, as some idiots would do.

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