Man, 61, fights off shark attack by punching it in the gills

·3-min read
Mr Lytton punched the shark and prevented the attack (AP)
Mr Lytton punched the shark and prevented the attack (AP)

A man managed to fend off a shark attack by punching the predator in the gills.

William Lytton, 61, was bitten by a shark off Cape Cod earlier this month. He said he escaped by swinging for the shark in the gills after it clamped down on his leg.

In his first interview since the August 15 attack, Mr Lytton said he had been swimming in about “eight to 10 feet” of water off Truro, Massachusetts, when he felt an incredible pain shoot through his left leg.

The shark stunner from Scarsdale, New York, said he gave his attacker a strong smack in the gills with his left hand and while the move likely saved his life, it also resulted in some torn tendons.

”I initially was terrified, but, really, there was no time to think,” he said, recounting the ordeal following a physical therapy session at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, where he has been since Sunday.

He escaped with cuts, bruises and some painful tendons (AP)
He escaped with cuts, bruises and some painful tendons (AP)

“It doesn’t feel like I did anything heroic. A lot of this was luck.”

Mr Lytton claims he learned that the gills were one of the most vulnerable parts of the shark from nature documentaries.

When the punch broke the shark’s grip, he swam back to shore where he shouted for help. Someone alerted his wife, who had been on the beach with their two daughters and family friends.

Beachgoers – including off-duty nurses and other medics – helped stem the bleeding and carried him up the dunes towards help.

“The pain was really excruciating,” Mr Lytton said. “I remember the helicopter landing and then nothing for the next two days.”

He was airlifted to Tufts Medical Centre in Boston where he said he was placed into a two-day coma, underwent six operations and had nearly 12 pints of blood pumped into him.

Mr Lytton, a professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, said he was grateful to be alive, but knows he has weeks more of rehab – and at least one more surgery – before he is back on his feet.

Luckily, the shark missed critical nerves and veins and did not leave major damage, though pieces of shark teeth were removed from his wounds.

Mr Lytton was transferred on Sunday to Spaulding, a rehabilitation hospital where many of the most severely injured survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were treated.

He is expected to be there around two weeks before eventually returning to New York.

Mr Lytton said he is not in any rush to wade back into the ocean waters off Cape Cod, where he spends nearly every summer doing research.

“It’s kind of terrifying thinking about it,” he said.

“I know it’s not the best thing to say, but I didn’t like sharks before, and like them even less now.”

State biologists are working to determine what type of shark was involved in the attack, which was the first in Massachusetts waters since 2012. The state’s last fatal attack was in 1936.

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