Calif. surfer survives shark attack by punching it in the head

11/01/2012 12:42 AM

11/01/2012 12:42 AM

EUREKA, Calif. — A 25-year-old California surfer who survived a brutal shark attack said Wednesday he punched the shark in the head until it finally released him.

A day after his ordeal, Scott Stephens spoke publicly about how he was surfing on a popular surf spot off the coast of Eureka. Stephens said he was catching some waves when a young great white shark bit and pulled him underwater. It only released him after he started fighting back for his life.

"I opened my eyes underwater and punched the shark on the side of the head until it released me," Stephens said. "I saw a lot of blood."

Doctors say Stephens suffered at least seven deep lacerations, but none of his vital organs were damaged during the attack. He is listed in fair condition after undergoing surgery Tuesday at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, the Eureka Times-Standard reported (http://bit.ly/Rw0Ak6).

The incident was the latest in a string of shark attacks in California this year.

Last week, a 39-year-old surfer died in another shark attack off Santa Barbara County, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles last week. A shark expert determined his injuries likely were inflicted by a 15- to 16-foot great white shark.

Two kayakers — one in Santa Cruz County in July and the other in San Luis Obispo County in May — reported that sharks bit their boats.

Experts say great white sharks are found from tropical to polar regions and are not uncommon up and down the California coast, experts said. However, they generally do not attack humans, they said.

There have been nearly 100 shark attacks in California since the 1920s, including a dozen that were fatal, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. But attacks have remained relatively rare even as the population of swimmers, divers and surfers sharing the waters has soared.

An average of about 65 shark attacks happen each year around the world that typically result in two or three deaths, according to the Pew Environment Group.

Stephens said Wednesday the shark severed his leash but he was able to get back on his board and thanks to a wave paddle back to shore.

By then he shouted for help, and several other surfers quickly came to his aid.

"I can't begin to say how appreciative I am of them," Stephens said. "When I reached the beach, I realized how injured I was and how much blood I was losing."

Stephens also publicly thanked the doctors who operated on him and strangers who came to help, calling them "heroes."

He also said he plans to surf again.

"I will be very scared, I'm sure," Stephens said. "I'll definitely have some mental barriers to get through. I think it'll be worth it."

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Information from: Times-Standard, http://www.times-standard.com

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