A diver collecting mollusks recently lost his life when a shark bit his head off. Two people on a support vessel witnessed the attack. “He was diving when the animal attacked him, impressively ripping off his head and biting both shoulders,” Jose Bernal told Tracking Sharks.
The attack occurred on January 5 in the Gulf of California near Mexico at a depth of fewer than 60 feet. Manuel López was harvesting ax tripe, which are similar to a scallops, when a 19-foot great white shark attacked. Experts say that the action of pulling mollusks from the sea floor generates underwater turbulence, which may have attracted the shark.
“Any time someone is fishing—whether for fishes or invertebrates like scallops or lobster—sharks are drawn to the smells in the water and the vibrations of struggling animals,” University of Florida marine biologist Gavin Naylor told Live Science. “If sharks are excited and hungry, they make rash decisions and bite what— in the heat of the moment—they consider a potential prey item. Predators have to think quickly. If they hesitate, it can leave them hungry.”
The fatality happened in a coastal area where people had been warned to temporarily stay out of the water because of increased shark activity. Pregnant female sharks gather annually in the Sea of Cortez from December through January to target nutrient-rich seals. This has prompted some local divers to stay out of the water. But the diver who succumbed to the attack did not heed the warning.
While shark attacks are rare, attacks involving peoples’ heads are even rarer. Usually, sharks bite the torsos or legs of people when they mistake them for seals or other prey. Experts are not sure why the shark targeted the victim’s head in this case, but they speculate it may have been the most accessible part of the man’s body while he was collecting mollusks. In 2022, there were 5 confirmed fatal shark attacks worldwide.
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