Michael Cohen, the man who survived a traumatic shark attack on 28 September while swimming at Clovelly Corner, Fish Hoek Beach owes his life to two locals who happened to be driving past the beach just before the attack. Cohen is a 42 year old British citizen currently living in South Africa. He is in a critical but stable condition in Constantia Berg Hospital after an operation to amputate his right leg above his knee.
The two very special locals who braved the bloodied sea to pull him to the shore while the shark was still in the area have been identified as Douglas Drysdale, 61, from Glencairn Heights, and Hugh Till, 66 of Fish Hoek. They were apparently driving past Clovelly Corner on the lookout for whales when they saw a lone swimmer being approached by the dark shape of what was unmistakably a large shark.
Unfortunately, Cohen did not hear their warning cries, nor did he hear the frantic horn blowing of the Shark Spotters who were racing from their station on Fish Hoek Beach to get him out of the water.
According to witnesses both Drysdale and Till, on reaching the beach rushed into the surf to pull the badly injured swimmer from the sea. Onlookers watched with bated breath as the shark continued to circle while the rescuers dragged the victim to the beach.
I do not have words to describe the bravery of Douglas Drysdale and Hugh Till – except to say thank-you.
Our instinctive fear of sharks touches deep primordial roots, which is why it is generally so difficult for humans to be rational about the low risks of being attacked by a shark. But when Drysdale and Till dashed into the sea at Clovelly Corner, Fish Hoek yesterday the risks were high – a struggling swimmer, blood in the water and the shark still present.
Their actions speak for themselves and their first thoughts must have been for the shark attack victim. Thank-you to both Doug Drysdale and Hugh Till for your courage and for flying a great big flag celebrating what spirited humans are capable of.
I hope that the many locals who are reeling at the shock of the recent attack will look beyond the horror to the lessons to be learnt. Michael Cohen has not been able to tell his side of the story yet, but is seems that he ignored the Shark Spotter warnings that there was at least one shark in the inshore area. The Shark Spotters had cleared the sea at Fish Hoek Beach of swimmers, so why did he ignore the warning signs? No doubt an investigation will reveal if the warnings at Clovelly Beach are adequate. We need to remind ourselves that the risk of a shark attack is still low and that by informing ourselves of the current state of shark activity along our coast and by being alert to the Shark Spotter warnings, we reduce the risk of an encounter with sharks even further.
If I may make a comment in support of sharks, I believe that the shark that bit Michael Cohen with such serious consequences made a mistake. Notions of man-eaters focussed on hunting humans are fictional. If it were otherwise, the rescuers would not have been able to get Cohen out of the water. That the shark swam off after a seal that came between it and the men in the water requires us to remember that we are not its natural prey and that attacks are extremely rare and unfortunate cases of mistaken identity.
Right now our thoughts are with Michael Cohen in the hope that he will make a good recovery and learn to lead an active life in spite of the loss of his right leg.