June 19, 2024 | Eul Basa

This Man Was Swallowed By A Great White Shark And Lived


The human obsession with sharks

Shark attacks may be rare events, but they continue to frighten and fascinate people today. Just the thought of a shark lurking beneath the ocean while we swim at the surface fires up our primal fears. That's why when a shark attack happens in real life, the news goes viral—and the world is left in a state of shock and awe.

Shark Cover

The story of Eric Nerhus

That's exactly what happened when the world found out about Eric Nerhus' near-death experience in the open waters. News outlets had reported that Eric, a 41-year-old professional diver, was attacked by a great white shark while he was out in the ocean. And while any shark attack incident is brutal, his was is on a whole other level.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark Underwater PhotoAlexius Sutandio, Shutterstock

He had a passion for the ocean

Eric Nerhus grew up in Eden, Australia—a coastal town known for its beautiful beaches and marine life. From a young age, he was fascinated by the ocean, leading him to become a professional diver.

Landscape Photo of the Eden Beach in Eden, Australia.Martin Kraft, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Diving for abalone was his pastime 

Eric was a skilled abalone diver, gathering the highly prized snails for their meat and shells. Despite the risky conditions of his job, he was recognized as one of the top professionals in his field.

Great white shark sideways in front of a diving cage with scuba divers.VisionDive, Shutterstock

The day that changed his life

On January 23, 2007, Eric Nerhus and his 16-year-old son Mark went diving at Cape Howe along the New South Wales coastline. Together, they planned to collect abalone from the ocean floor for a few hours.

View Across Shelley Beach To West Cape Howe, West Australiaaussiejeff, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

They ignored all the warning signs

Despite the forecast warning of harsh conditions that typically deterred divers from going out into the ocean, they still went. There were also recent reports of white pointer sightings due to the colder waters in the area, but they didn't think much about it.

Silence Before The Storm, Great Barrier Reef Conservation Reserve, AustraliaGypsy888, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Time and place

They went out on a boat, and Mark was his deckhand. They began their dive around 9 am in the morning, proceeding to descend 26 feet to the ocean floor. This is around the depth below sea level where abalone are plentiful.

Close Up Photo of Abalone diver in a boat.~boonie, Flickr 

The importance of weighted vests

Abalone divers can stay submerged for as long as eight hours with the help of lead weight vests to manage their buoyancy. Typically, they are connected to a machine aboard the boat. Eric and Mark were equipped with both of these items.

Close Up Photo of Scuba Diver in the Sea.astro_matt, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Oxygen supply is plentiful

They were able to receive oxygen through a hose attached to a professional-grade mask. Even with the murky, poor-visibility water, Eric felt comfortable and at ease as he swam around giant rocks.

Close Up Photo of Scuba Divers under the sea.Serge Melki, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eric knew that diving spot well

Eric thought it would be just another normal dive for abalone. After all, he had done that same dive in that same spot 100 times before, and nothing bad had ever happened. What could go wrong?

Yu Diving at Eccleston Delph, Scuba Diver Training School in CheshireYu Diving, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The calm before the storm

In the Tasman Sea, surrounded by deep blue waters, he only heard the hum of his air regulator. He looked around to see if there was any suspicious activity happening nearby, like fish swimming away from something, but there was none.

A scuba diver in silhouette. Taken near Apo Island in the Philippines.Clotho, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Then came a horrific surprise

Suddenly, Eric felt something massive come at him with tremendous force. It came out of nowhere and without warning. At that moment, he tried to get past his shock and focus on what was happening—and then he made a horrific realization.

Great white shark and jack fish, Neptune Islands, South Australia.wildestanimal, Shutterstock

He was attacked by a great white shark

His vision was dark, but he already knew—it was a great white shark. It must have been about 10 feet long with hundreds of sharp, jagged teeth lining its mouth. It must have been roving the area where he was fishing for abalone.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater Photo.Elias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eric's memory of that moment is as clear as day

"One minute it was day light, the next second everything went black. Inside the jaws it was just dark, I couldn't see anything because I was looking down the back of his throat. I've never experienced anything like it."

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoSharkcrew, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

It was like something out of a nightmare

Eric felt the shark was biting his head and torso with its strong jaws. Half of his body was inside the shark, while it was thrashing violently. It happened so quickly that neither he nor his son had time to react.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoTomas Kotouc, Shutterstock

Inside the jaws of the shark

Eric can vividly remember being inside the shark's mouth and feeling its sharp teeth sinking into his skin. He could also feel the shark attempting to devour him in a single gulp, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoMG SG, Shutterstock

It was bad—but he had a smidge of luck

 Thankfully, because he was wearing a thick mask and heavy diving gear, his head and chest were slightly protected. If he wasn't fully suited up like he was during the attack, he might have lived a worser fate.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoHermanus Backpackers, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Two minutes of torture

Even though he was shielded from the worst outcome by his gear and protective vest, Eric endured a painful two-minute ordeal inside the creature's mouth before being swallowed.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

It was the scariest moment of his life

"I’ve never felt fear in my life like what I felt in the jaws of that white pointer. I went straight into its mouth, front onwards. Half my body was in its throat. It was like being in a dark cave.”

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The most unbearable pain

Still, Eric's head, shoulders, and chest were fully within the shark's jaws, causing him to sense a scraping sensation on his skull and ribs. He was suffering from unbearable pain and finding it difficult to breathe.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater Photo.Elias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eric thought that was the end for him

"I started to get shaken horizontally with a really hard threshing motion. I thought, 'I this the end? Is this what is like to die?' I was actually being eaten alive."

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, Flickr

He knew he had to act fast

Despite his intense pain and fear, Eric remained conscious and alert, knowing he had to act quickly to survive. Using all his strength, he fought back. Thankfully, his arms and hands were still outside the shark's bite.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The maneuver that saved his life

He forcefully swing his arms toward's the shark's head, eventually managing to poke it in one of its eyes with the chisel he used to collect abalone from rocks. Sharks have sensitive vision, so this maneuver often prompts them to release their hold.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Struggling for survival

During a fierce battle with a shark, Eric's weight belt came loose, giving him more freedom to move around. Despite still being in the shark's mouth, he remained calm and continued to fight aggressively.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eric just kept poking the shark's eye

Eric said he fought through the pain and continued applying pressure to the shark. "I twisted its eye as hard as I could and the shark reacted again and let go," he explained.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoTomas Kotouc, Shutterstock

He never gave up—not for a second

Continuing to poke the shark's eye, he was finally successful. He could feel the shark relax its hold a little bit, and its jaws began to open. This was his chance to get away—and he took it.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Timing the shark's movements

"The shark reacted by opening its mouth and I just tried to wriggle out," Eric explained. "It was still trying to bite me. It crushed my goggles into my nose and they fell into its mouth."

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

It kept trying to pull him back in

"I started to wriggle out backwards and I wasn't sure if I was going to get out or not. Just as I thought I was getting free, the bottom jaw closed and I felt the teeth sink into the back of my head and into my skull," Eric said.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Finally breaking free

Eric, with his last strength, freed himself from the shark's mouth. The shark bit his torso again, but he was still free from the shark's hold. Somehow, he still had enough energy to swim to the surface.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater Photo.Elias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Face to face with his predator

"The big round black eye, 5 inches wide, was staring straight into my face with just not one hint of fear, of any boat, or any human, or any other animal in the sea," said Eric. "It was the scariest sight I have ever seen."

 Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater Photo.Shane Myers Photography, Shutterstock

At the surface, he needed assistance right away

Mark, Eric's son, was diving in the vicinity when he witnessed the disturbance. He soon recognized his father was in distress and hurried to assist. Upon surfacing, Eric was experiencing intense pain and was bleeding profusely.

 Diver in wetsuit swimming near shark underwaterROMAN ODINTSOV, Pexels

The danger was not over

All the while, the great white shark was still beneath, circling him and swimming so close that it would occassionally brush by his flippers. He also feared that the pool of blood from his wounds would attract it back and cause it to attack him again. Thankfully, Mark quickly came over with their boat.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater Photo.Jeremy Bishop, Pexels

Mark got him help right away

Mark assisted his father onto their boat before promptly seeking assistance. Despite his severe injuries, Eric remained alert, recognizing he was in dire need of immediate medical attention. Mark used their boat's radio to call for help, leading to a quick helicopter rescue.

Close Up Photo of Photo Of Scuba Divers On Boat.Pia B, Pexels

His situation was looking bleak

The helicopter showed up and transported Eric via air to Wollongong hospital, which was close by. His state was critical with serious injuries on his head, shoulders, and torso. No one was sure if he would make it.

Close Up Photo of a white helicopter flying over the sea.Naval Surface Warriors, Flickr

Chaos at the hospital

Doctors moved swiftly to stabilize his condition and manage his injuries. Despite losing a significant amount of blood and being susceptible to infection, Eric stayed calm and was fighting to stay alive the entire time.

Close Up Photo of Wollongong Hospital, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.Mx. Granger, Wikimedia Commons

They wheeled him into the OR

Eric underwent several surgeries to repair his shark bite injuries, requiring a hospital stay for a few weeks. He counted a total of 75 stitches to close up his wounds. Through his determination, he survived despite the severity of his injuries.

Photo of Operation room with full equipment.Saamzf, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eric's friend speaks on the situation

Dennis Luobikis, a fellow diver, explained how Eric managed to survive the shark attack. "The brunt of the bite was taken by his lead-weight vest. Its all over your torso. Eric said to me at the wharf that his weight vest saved him."

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoHorizon Charters, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The power of perserverance 

"He pushed his abalone chisel into its head while it was biting and it let him go and swam away," said Dennis. "Eric is a tough boy, he's super fit. But I would say that would test anyone's resolve, being a fish lunch."

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias).Olga Ernst, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

A miraculous recovery

Eric's recovery was nothing less than miraculous. Even with his serious injuries, he made an impressive recovery. His physicians were surprised by the speed of his healing and his positive response to therapy.

Physiotherapist is doing physical therapy for a patientPickadook, Shutterstock

Eric became a local hero

Following his recovery, Eric evolved into somewhat of a hometown legend. His tale was highlighted in newspapers and on television globally. He also received numerous messages of support and encouragement from individuals worldwide who sympathized with this story.

Killer Whale museum at Eden, Australia. The museum houses the skeeton of Old TomMatilda, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Famous but still humble

Even with his newfound celebrity status, Eric stayed modest and grounded. He appreciated the support he got and was grateful for being alive. He also dedicated his life to raising awareness about ocean safety and the significance of respecting marine life.

Landscape Photo of Eden, Australia Coastline Looking SouthLobster1, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Eric is grateful he survived

"I am glad I am still around. Sometimes you get a break in life," Eric said. "I'm a working man that just wanted to survive very, very badly, at all costs."

Photo of a Person Diving on Ocean.Aviv Perets, Pexels

He has no ill feelings toward the shark

"I have no animosity towards the shark because I realise it obviously mistook me for its natural prey, which possibly would be a seal. When you think about it, this was probably a one in ten million chance of escape."

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoDaniel Torobekov, Pexels

In defense of sharks

Eric's encounter emphasized the rareness of shark attacks on humans, whilte also stressing the need to protect sharks due to their crucial role in the ocean ecosystem. Despite his traumatic experience, he advocates against the negative stereotypes put on sharks, especially great white sharks.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoTerry Goss, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The importance of great whites

Great white sharks are apex predators that are essential in preserving the balance of marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, a large number of shark species are currently at risk of extinction because of overfishing, habitat destruction, and other harmful human activities.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoSharkdiver68, Wikimedia Commons

Shark attacks are rare

Shark attacks are uncommon, with the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) noting low chances of being attacked. Few unprovoked attacks happen globally each year with minimal fatalities. Sharks may mistake humans for prey like seals, leading to mistaken bites. After realizing the error, sharks often release the person and leave.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoSharkcrew, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Australia is notorious for shark attacks

Australia's long coastline and abundant marine life make it a hotspot for shark attacks due to frequent human-shark interactions. Various shark species, including great white, tiger, and bull sharks, live in Australian waters.

 Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoOlga Ernst, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Safety measures have been taken

To lessen the risk of attacks, the country uses shark nets and drones to enhance beach safety. Despite their occurrence, shark attacks in Australia are still rare compared to other regions.

Shark nets flank the swimming area and pontoon at Point SinclaiDarkydoors, Shutterstock

Where else are great white sharks found?

Aside from the Australian waters where Eric was attacked, great white sharks can also be found in South Africa and California. They are typically abundant in coastal areas, attracted to regions with abundant seals and sea lions for hunting.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater Photo.Elias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons 

Great white sharks don't like humans

While often seen in popular swimming, surfing, and diving spots, great whites typically avoid humans and do not actively hunt them. Still, it is important to take caution whenever swimming in open water.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

What to do in a shark encounter

Remaining calm during a shark encounter is crucial. Avoid quick movements, maintain eye contact, and slowly move backwards with minimal splashing. Keep the shark in sight and be ready to defend yourself by targeting vulnerable areas like the eyes, gills, or snout. To reduce the risk of encounters, swim in groups, avoid fishing areas, and stay out of the water during dawn, dusk, or nighttime.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Underwater PhotoElias Levy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Tools and gadgets that can help

Having tools like a solid dive knife, a shark shield, and an underwater noise maker is helpful when diving in shark-infested areas for defense, deterring sharks, and signaling for help. Also, having a powerful flashlight on hand can be useful in confusing a shark if necessary. Making sure you have a dive buddy for extra safety and staying alert during the dive are essential precautions.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and divers in a cageDmitry Pradun, Shutterstock

Raising awareness

Eric used his expertise to advocate for shark conservation, sharing the need for better understanding and respect. His storytelling shifted perceptions of sharks from monsters to crucial ecosystem contributors, highlighting their importance in our world.

Close Up Photo of Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) an a diver, Underwater Photo.Pexels User, Pexels

Back into the ocean

In a matter of months, Eric recovered and was excited to get back in the water. Eric's unwavering commitment to diving caught many off guard. After all, the ocean holds a special place in his heart. It is his second home, and he refuses to abandon his love for it after the shark attack.

Photography of Person Swimming Under Water.Gilbert Cayamo, Pexels

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