Courtesy of Ranie Pearce, Molokai Channel, California.

Ranie Pearce describes her shark encounter with an 8-foot and 10-foot tiger shark during her Molokai Channel attempt on July 2nd 2016.

I had always heard the advice, ‘Don’t panic’ and ‘Punch them in the nose’ when a shark encounters a shark.

I knew that the two sharks were circling me for about 20 minutes. I did not panic. I kept swimming, hoping that continuity would breed boredom and that they would leave.

My kayaker was nervous and hyper aware of the sharks so I let him be ‘panicked’ for me.

The boat tried to drive them away making several passes that I thought were much too close to me for comfort, but the sharks kept coming back. Once the larger of the two sharks swam directly under me close enough for me to feel his slipstream, my feelings changed. I could no longer keep swimming, hoping that they would go away.”[Note: in the video above, the drone pilot did not have a monitor screen, so the part where Pearce is bumped by the shark is not shown on screen.]

I stopped moving, frozen in fear. I now felt that if I didn’t even breathe maybe they would leave me alone. My kayaker again put himself between me and the shark (in his mind) which seemed ridiculous really since the shark was beneath me, and a wave from the boat’s charge swamped me.

The shark reacted at the same moment and bumped me in the back of the head.

It was quite a smack. I thought it was the kayak, but when I surfaced, the kayaker’s first words were, ‘Did he hit you?’

The minute I saw those black lifeless eyes, the scenario changed. But once I was bumped, I knew that I was going to get out as fast as possible. There was never a moment in my mind that I could move aggressively towards them; I just wasn’t brave enough to try that.

These sharks were BIG!

We’ve all seen the way they move: silent, fast, black-eyed eating machines.

I had always heard that they circle, bump and then bite.

I believe, and have been told by many locals, that what saved me was that he hit my hard head on his exploratory bump. Bumping something hard, made him back off and circle again. If he’d hit my nice soft middle, he might have just opened up for a taste. Locals told me that I shouldn’t have been out there on that day, that the tuna were running, that the stormy weather stirred up more shark activity, that if I had been aggressive towards them, they might have gone away.

I could only follow the advice of the pilot, and I had waited seven days of an 8-day window, I should have come back on a different trip. But we all know how hard it is to walk away without even starting.

I know that I was incapable of moving toward the shark who touched me. I still have visions of those lifeless eyes beneath me in the water sometimes.

I tell myself that I want to go back and make that swim, but I don’t know if I will be able to swim through the night knowing what I know of what’s out there.

I never panicked. I had talked to my crew about the possibility of a shark and what we would do. I spoke to my crew throughout the experience, it was my decision to get out, but the captain wanted me out a good long time before I finally did get out. I thought a bit about the fact that I had spent more than US$7,000 to get to this swim, that I was well trained.

But then I thought, how would I explain to my daughters that I just wanted to try a bit longer to see if they would leave me alone…and explain being dead or maimed…so I got out.

There is no question in my mind that I made the right decision. Very few people have had this experience, I am happy to say. I hope to never experience a close encounter again, but I will keep swimming. I have mostly overcome the fear, but it sneaks back into my head at funny times.
I’ll stick to cold water for a while and hope to let time reduce my fears.

If I do this swim again, I will engage a Shark Shield on the kayak. Not sure what it buys you other than peace of mind, but I’d like that.

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