Shark Bite First Aid Management & Shark Identification
Approximately 85% of Australians live within 50km of a coastline where shark bite First Aid and management are crucial knowledge skills for anyone choosing to spend their time relaxing on the golden sands and swimming in the warm azure blue oceans surrounding our extensive island.
The only problem is that we have to share those waters with a range of sharks, the original and intended inhabitants, and we are the trespassers into their domain. Despite the villainous reputation sharks receive, statistically speaking, most people survive shark bites, or being bitten by a shark, and the fatalities tend to have an artery severed and bleed out before they can be brought to shore, where First Aid treatment can be initiated. Often due to the lack of equipment required to make a tourniquet on the spot.
Sharks do not have hands. A shark bite is their way of using their teeth and mouth to test, touch, and taste things in the same way we use our fingers to identify something when our eyes are closed. What we call a shark attack is often not intended to be an attack by the shark. It was trying to determine what that floating body thrashing around in the water is, and if it is the desired menu option, such as a seal. Surprisingly, living humans are not high on a shark’s menu.
Australia’s waters are home to the top three oceanic predators that exert an ever-present danger to humans, even if an accidental one. However, it is important to understand that shark attacks are incredibly rare events, and fatal shark attacks are rarer still.
There are plenty of suggestions taught to minimise the risk of having a negative encounter with a shark and suffering from a shark bite. We are told never to swim in murky, turbid, or dimly lit water. Not to swim in the ocean at dusk and dawn, the most active feeding hours for sharks. We are constantly advised to swim in designated and patrolled areas, never alone, and to get out of the water or avoid swimming where baitfish may be present or a run of fish is close to shore.
We are taught to avoid swimming in freshwater canals that meet the ocean. Why? How will a shark survive going from saltwater to freshwater and live? Let me introduce you to the Bull Shark.
Bull Sharks are capable of osmoregulation, a process allowing the sharks to adjust the salt-to-water ratio in their bodies based on the water around them. Thanks to special adaptations from their excretory systems, they retain salt and produce more diluted urine while swimming in freshwater.
They constantly adapt their salt level to the environment around them, meaning they can go where the other sharks cannot, and that includes freshwater estuaries, rivers, and canals. Bull sharks are the only sharks known to withstand wide variations in water salinity. This means they can easily move from salty oceans to brackish estuaries.
They can and have travelled thousands of kilometres inland using the river systems and during floods. That means no river in Australia is hypothetically free of a potential Bull shark lurking in the water. However, the chances, while possible, are remote in actuality. The further inland you go, the less chance there will be of a Bull shark having made its way from the ocean up a flooded river where it becomes trapped in a freshwater river.
Bull sharks are often mistaken for Great White sharks but they have a flatter nose, like they ran into a wall, where as the Great White has the identifying pointed nose. If you look at the image of the Bull shark above and then compare it to the Great White image further down the article you will see the difference.
All The Deadly Sharks And Sea Creatures Live Here
Australia has the world’s highest diversity of sharks and rays, with roughly 180 of the 509 known shark species. Of that number, twenty-six shark species have been identified as biting humans without seeming provocation. Of these twenty-six species, twenty-two are found in and around Australian waters. In fact, eleven of the shark species known to have caused fatal unprovoked bites on humans can be found in Australian waters. Yikes! No wonder the world is too terrified to visit us. If it is not our land-based deadly wildlife, our aquatic wildlife is ready to take them out of the game.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Australia’s coastal waters are home to the top three most notoriously deadly species of sharks in the Great White Shark, Tiger Shark, and Bull Shark.
Most fish are ectothermic, meaning cold-blooded. This restricts their movement and locations in the world’s oceans to bodies of water that offer the individual species the ideal temperature. This limited ability to go where they desire means their environment becomes an established feeding ground for predators. Basically, a supermarket for sharks and other fish-loving predators to exploit.
Most shark species can retain the heat generated by their muscles. This ability allows them the luxury of moving through all water temperatures to predate in cold water. Great White Sharks are so good at retaining their body heat that their core body temperature can be up to 14.3℃ above the surrounding water temperature. That is an impressive feat for any species!
Tiger shark movements are unpredictable; they eat a wide range of prey and are naturally curious and opportunistic hunters. They can be aggressive to humans with little provocation, making them highly territorial and overly aggressive in protecting their space from intruders. This shark species is primarily solitary and hunts at night, making it nocturnal. They swim into shallower waters at night to feed close to shore and move back into deep waters during the day.
Tiger sharks are cunningly clever and highly intelligent. They are believed to use “cognitive maps” to navigate between their foraging areas with hunting ranges spanning hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. The Tiger Sharks’ distribution in Australian waters covers all but the country’s most southern coastline.
Great White Sharks
Jaws has a lot to atone for in vilifying one of the ocean’s most majestic predators.
The only known predators of this apex predator are humans and Orcas. With an average mouth containing 300 teeth, it is surprising to discover they don’t chew their food; instead, they rip it into bite-sized pieces and swallow it whole.
This is one reason humans who have an encounter with a Great White Shark predominantly survive to tell their story.
Similar to land-based Falcons, Great Whites have exceptional vision. Their retinas are divided into two dedicated sections that allow for day vision and the other for low-light and night vision. As a defence measure, the Great White has the ability to roll its eyes backwards into the socket when threatened.
The largest of the ‘fish’ species, the Great White has earned a reputation for being the shark most likely to attack a human. However, even if they bite a human, it is rare that a person will die from their injuries.
Falsely portrayed by films, this lack of instant, ferocious death suggests that any interaction with humans is more than likely accidental, a case of curiosity or mistaking them for a food group they naturally hunt. Surfers and skin divers often resemble seals and large fish, a tempting meal to a hungry shark. Imagine their disappointment when they bite into their chosen meal only to discover it is a neoprene-encased human before they spit us out and move away, searching for real food.
Shark Bite First Aid & Management
Easy to say but harder to practise in reality. Don’t panic! Swim the person to shore as quickly as possible. If they are conscious, immediately address controlling their bleeding by using pressure. If an Artery has been severed, then a tourniquet will be required immediately. Use surfboard rope as it will be the first useable item to hand. Wind tightly until the bleeding stops and keep that pressure maintained until the ambulance arrives to take over.
Call 000 and shout for assistance from anyone else on the beach. Try to reassure and keep them calm and warm as they will enter a state of shock. It is the state of entering shock that could be fatal and lead to their death. I hear you asking me how do I manage the bleeding and what is shock?
The short answer is that every teenager and adult should have basic First Aid skills and qualifications. Given the potentially deadly environment Australians live in, every day could be one you are called to render First Aid assistance to someone.
If your victim is no longer conscious when you reach the beach, you will need to begin your DRSABCD protocols. Providing CPR correctly is a learned skill and could be the difference between life and death before the shock has a chance to set in.
In this instance, it would be safe to assume they had water in their lungs and drowned during their rescue. Continue CPR until help arrives or for twenty minutes if you are a solo provider or as long as you are physically capable. If there is no response and no breathing, and they are bleeding out via a severed artery, you are unable to tourniquet.
If a response is achieved and they regain a heartbeat, they will immediately throw up and begin coughing the water from their lungs. Roll them onto their left side so they eject the water and not block the airway. Once they are breathing normally, call for help, keep them warm and begin to address their blood loss and what you can do to control or minimise the bleeding.
In any instance where an artery has been compromised, or the severing of a limb has occurred, the immediate treatment will require a tourniquet above the severed artery to stop blood flow entirely. Leg ropes used to keep surfboards attached are the perfect item for use in this instance.
The human body contains five (5) litres of blood, with 100 million new blood cells created every minute. Despite the fact it will look like they are going to bleed to death, unless an artery has been severed, so long as pressure is applied to the bleeding and evacuation to a medical centre or hospital is undertaken within half an hour, there is a ninety per cent chance the person will go on to live a perfectly normal life.
Scarred and with the war story that is hard to top for sure, but alive and well at the end of the trauma-filled day. The human body is a truly amazing and complex design and will function on as little as two (2) litres of blood.
So what are you waiting for? If you are not First Aid certified, now is the perfect time to fix that by visiting FACE, an accredited RTO providing First Aid courses. Discover more about how complex our bodies are and read our FACE Blog page articles.
We never know what the future holds, and knowledge is the key to being prepared for the unexpected when it arrives to test us. Don’t live with the guilt of being unable to save someone’s life through ignorance. If anything is going to kill you, it will be the lack of First Aid skills and knowledge long before it is a shark!