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How to Stop a Shark Attack Victim from Bleeding to Death

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Learning how to stop a shark attack victim from bleeding to death is vitally important for any of us who visit the seaside.

Most people who actually die from shark attacks aren't eaten alive, contrary to popular belief. Generally, sharks take one bite, don't like the taste and go away.

That one bite could be fatal if an artery is severed, or if a lot of venous blood is lost and no attempt is made to stem the flow.

If you come across a shark attack victim, perhaps on the shore where he has been dragged, or on a boat, would you know what to do while waiting for the emergency services to arrive?

There are two things you want to do.

  1. Prevent shock from setting in.
  2. Prevent further blood loss.

Shock is another name for internal organ failure, and happens when someone has lost a lot of blood.

Sadly, people die from this even after the ambulance crew arrive and pump fluids into their body.

You can help prevent shock by:

  • making sure the victim's head is lower than the rest of his body.
  • raising the bleeding limb.
  • keeping the victim warm.

When a wound damages or cuts a vein, the blood loss is profusive.

Apply pressure to the area to reduce the flow of blood.

Depending on where the wound is, you may be able to stop the bleeding completely, but you must keep the pressure applied until the emergency services arrive and take over.

If you do both things, raise the area of the body that is injured while applying pressure, you are giving that shark bite victim a very good chance of making a full recovery.

great white shark

great white shark

Shark attack victim life saved by tourniquet

Just weeks after publishing this article, Mr Michael Cohen, 42, was attacked by a great white shark at Fish Hoek Beach in South Africa.

He lost a leg and had his other foot badly mauled. Rescuers bravely entered the water and dragged him to safety.

Once on the beach, he would have died from blood loss with both the femoral artery and femoral vein severed.

His two rescuers, Douglas Drysdale, 61, and Hugh Till, 66, used the belts from their trousers to apply a makeshift tourniquet and stopped the bleeding, thus saving Mr Cohen's life.

The surgeon who later attended to Mr Cohen in hospital, praised them two men for their actions, and added that with both the femoral artery and vein torn, Mr. Cohen would have died from blood loss on the beach if not for their quick-thinking actions.

Stop arterial blood loss

If an artery has been severed, trust me you will know.

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The blood from a severed artery spurts out rythmically at the same beat as a human heart and with the pressure of a runaway train.

You will need a lot of strength to physically hold back the flow, but if you can reduce it, you will help.

If the severed artery is on a limb, apply a tourniquet above the wound.

This will stop the blood flow at that point and thus prevent bleeding out.

If you are not sure what a tourniquet is, if you have every had blood withdrawn in a clinic, the nurse or doctor quite often applies a tourniquet to your upper arm to make the vein stand out more.

It is a tight band with velcro to hold it in place.

You can make a tourniquet out of a piece of shredded clothing, or a rope, or anything that is to hand.


If the shark attack victim has lost a whole arm or a whole leg and there is no place to apply a tourniquet, you can try to locate the severed artery and push your finger into it to try and reduce the blood loss.

This is easier said than done because there will be so much blood around it will be hard to find.

Else look at the chart above and apply pressure to the pressure points shown.

If someone has a bucket of clean water handy, try flushing the area to help see. This is a good idea to do anyway, as many people later die from infections set in around the bite area.

So flushing the wound once or twice with clean water while waiting for the ambulance is a good idea.


Once upon a time, only people who went into shark-infested waters were at risk of shark attack.

Nowadays, judging by the latest shark attack statistics, no sea water anywhere is guaranteed to be free from sharks.

Know what to do to help until the ambulance crew arrives and takes over.

You could save a life.

Further reading about emergency treatment for shark bites


IzzyM (author) from UK on September 20, 2011:

Thanks Dallas. The vast majority of people who die from shark bites (and they are relatively few) die from blood loss. No matter how horrible the injury (bites to torso etc), that person can still recover if the blood flow is reduced or stopped. Just keep 'em alive, the hospital can work out if they are saveable or not.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on September 19, 2011:

This information may save someones life. Flag up!

IzzyM (author) from UK on September 19, 2011:

Just don't have nightmares after reading this! Remember that you are twice as likely to get hit by lightening, and that's pretty rare!

Tammy on September 19, 2011:

I would be an easy lunch, since I would have a heartattack at the idea of coming face to face with a shark. I have a phobia of the ocean, just watching sharks on the Discovery channel gives me chills. This is terrific information for those that don't often come into contact with trama like this. (and anyone in general.) Thanks for sharing it!

IzzyM (author) from UK on September 19, 2011:

Thanks Dorsi, you just never know when you might need this info!

Dorsi Diaz from The San Francisco Bay Area on September 19, 2011:

Great info Izzy. I go to the beach once in awhile so it's good to know this in case I am ever faced with a victim of shark attack. Thumbs up!

IzzyM (author) from UK on September 19, 2011:

You're welcome, and thanks for commenting :)

Tammy Winters from Oregon on September 19, 2011:

This is great information. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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