A math professor has described her “real-life Jaws” moment when a 12 foot shark sank its teeth into her companion’s wrist, sending a geyser of blood exploding through the sea, as he swam just feet away from her.
Likening the carnivorous predators to “curious puppies,” despite witnessing the terrifying shark attack – which severed the radial artery on Alvaro Ordonez’s right wrist leaving his hand hanging from the bone and putting him in danger of bleeding to death – Tracy Wollschlager, 28, is keen to get back in the water.
She was spearfishing off the coast near her home in Miami, Florida with fellow experienced divers Alvaro, 60, and Eric Salado, 62, both medical professionals, when, after two minutes in the water, they suddenly realized they were surrounded by 10 bull sharks – considered to by many experts to be the most dangerous sharks in the world.
Recalling the potentially fatal drama on February 2, 2019, Tracy said:
“Alvaro had shot a fish very close to the shark and that had clearly got her angry. Suddenly, I saw her charging at him and then the water exploded with a cloud of blood.”
The shark, which Tracy believes was pregnant, given her bulging sides, then went for her, but the quick-thinking academic managed to ward it off by prodding its nose with the tip of her speargun.
Fortunately, with lightning speed, Eric hauled their injured friend into their waiting boat and Alvaro instructed Tracy to cut the arm off his wetsuit and wrap a shirt around his wrist.
“I was really freaking out, thinking to myself over and over again, ‘This can’t be happening’,” said Tracy.
“I was struggling to keep calm, seeing how bad the gash on his wrist was. Given how much blood was pouring out, it could easily have killed him.”
Making it back to Miami, 30 minutes away, they were met by an ambulance that rushed Alvaro off to the emergency room, where hospital doctors were able to patch him up.
But Tracy, whose partner Nick Wood, 32, is a fishing guide, has not let the deep sea terror put her off fishing.
The professor, who as well as working at Fort Lauderdale’s Broward College, Florida, is also a yacht broker, said:
“I haven’t had time yet to go fishing again, but I’ve been dying to get out there.”
“The shark attack was pretty scary, but I know I have to dive again and face up to it because, in reality, what happened isn’t a normal experience at all.”
“For the most part, sharks really don’t have any interest in eating us. They are just like curious puppies – albeit with quite big sharp teeth!”
Enjoying regular angling trips with her dad in the Atlantic Ocean as a child, Tracy has been fishing since she was old enough to hold a rod.
She started spearfishing – which involves diving into the water and shooting fish at close-range with a speargun – in 2016, as her then-boyfriend was a speargun maker.
Soon “addicted” to the sport, she would go out in the water, either miles out to sea or along the coastline, hunting for snappers, groupers and jacks whenever she had time.
And when Alvaro and Eric, two accomplished spearfishermen who she met in mid-2018 through the local angling community, suggested they go on a trip together, she jumped at the chance of joining them.
“We were about three miles from the coast in Alvaro’s Contender fishing boat, at a spot where we had often been to, just above a shipwreck when it happened.”
“We were really excited because there were lots of cobia fish about and it was like heaven for a fisherman, as they are pretty rare.”
“But that also meant that there were shark around too, because cobia often swim close to sharks.”
Quickly the trio became aware of ten bull sharks – a breed ranked alongside great whites and tiger sharks as the most dangerous to humans – emerging from the murky waters beneath them.
Initially uninterested in the divers, their attention was grabbed when Alvaro shot a cobia fish off the back of the biggest bull.
“She was pretty p****d off by that and started following Alvaro around quite aggressively.”
“He started swimming back to the boat to get back in with the fish he’d just shot and all of a sudden the shark went for him.”
Just 10 feet away from him as the 12-foot predator tore Alvaro’s flesh, Tracy only narrowly avoided a mauling of her own from the enraged shark, which also lunged towards her.
After fending it off with her spear, she helped her fellow-fisherman into the boat, where the extent of his injuries became clear.
Realizing they had to act fast, Tracy attempted to stem the flow of blood and clean the wound as best she could using her shirt, for fear of infection, while Eric made a tourniquet from a bungee on a torch and called the emergency services, who sent an ambulance to the shore to wait for them.
“It was a race against the clock to get back to land, as we were really worried because there was so much blood and we thought Alvaro could easily bleed out.”
Luckily, their emergency first aid did the job and Alvaro made it to the ambulance, which rushed him to the Ryder Trauma Centre in Miami.
As a dentist, the concern was that his hand may be irreparably damaged, but after a five-hour operation to reconstruct his ligaments and tendons, surgeons were able to confirm that he would soon enough regain full mobility.
A month on, he is now back at work and like Tracy is raring to get back out on the water again.
“We have to realize that these things don’t happen very often, and while Alvaro was really lucky to make it out alive from that situation, he was also really unlucky to have been bitten in the first place.”
“We know the risks as spearfishers of this sort of thing happening and I guess we might be a little more wary in future.”
“But nothing – not even a shark – can stop us from going out in the water.”
Alvaro, who plans to get back in the water after his wound heals in a few weeks time, said:
“Seeing the shark coming, my first thought was ‘I’m gonna get it’.”
“So I waited until the very last moment and tried to grab the shark on the gills to get away from its jaws.”
“It was a pretty dangerous place to find yourself, but the experience hasn’t put me off diving or sharks.”
“As a conservationist, I love sharks and I treat them in the same way other people treat dogs.”
“You can sometimes get into scraps with them, but they are nice company to have in the water.”