If you swim in open waters, there might come a time when you encounter one of nature’s most terrifying predators: sharks. And – make no mistake about it – these fish have attacked numerous people throughout the years. One of the worst incidents, of course, came in 1945 when sharks ruthlessly slaughtered 579 men following the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis. But in March 2017 an ex-Navy SEAL named Clint Emerson offered some advice that could save your life should you ever find yourself face to face with a man-eating shark.
After all, since Jaws hit the big screen back in 1975, many of us have developed a fear of getting into open water. And even if you’ve never seen that film, the very thought of happening upon a hungry shark is pretty scary. Yet even though attacks of the fatal kind are fairly rare, they do still happen in certain parts of the world.
So some people would no doubt like to prepare themselves for potential encounters with sharks. And given the interest – and well known fears – there are countless tips online that detail what you should do if you ever end up in such a situation. But Clint Emerson is a former Navy SEAL – so when he talks, you really should listen. To that end, Emerson decided to share a couple of fascinating tidbits with Business Insider in 2017.
And as we mentioned, Emerson’s expertise in the survival stakes speaks for itself. He was once a member of Navy SEAL Team Six, after all. This is the unit that was responsible for killing Osama bin Laden in 2011. After two decades on the job, though, Emerson eventually retired and started writing books – including 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide.
But while his books cover a lot of ground, what we’re really interested in here is Emerson’s advice related to protecting against shark attacks. Yet such an event may not always be the first thing that comes to mind while enjoying a relaxing time in the ocean. On certain occasions, however, our aquatic adventures can take rather terrifying turns.
There may be a time when we come across a fish that intends to attack us beneath the surface, for instance. A shark would seemingly fit that description – but the predators don’t actually engage with humans all that often. As CNN revealed back in 2015, the likelihood of getting ambushed by a killer shark are “around one in 11.5 million.”
But that’s not to say that incidents with the fish don’t happen at all. In fact, the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) compiles in-depth statistics on this subject throughout the year. And as it turns out, there are two kinds of encounters that are recorded more than any other.
These two types of encounters with sharks are known as “provoked” and “unprovoked” attacks. Like the labels clearly suggest, the former indicates that the victims might’ve unwittingly encouraged the sharks to pounce on them. The latter, meanwhile, is on the opposite end of the spectrum: implying that the individuals did nothing to bring about the attacks.
The unprovoked attacks appear to take center stage when discussing the ISAF statistics online, though. For example, back in 2005 National Geographic revealed that 61 incidents of that type had happened around the world in the preceding year. And from that number, seven of the people involved had lost their lives.
In the period between 2013 and 2017, meanwhile, ISAF recorded an average of 84 unprovoked attacks per year. And to zero in on a particular year, 72 of these incidents occurred in 2014 – leading to three deaths. Taking a closer look at that data, too, another interesting bit of information comes to light.
Should you be someone who’s concerned about the locations of these shark attacks, the ISAF records make things pretty clear. Back in 2014, you see, most of the unprovoked attacks happened in the United States. The second-highest number of attacks – including two of the three recorded deaths – occurred in Australia. The third death happened in South Africa.
ISAF released the stats for 2018 via the Florida Museum’s official website. And at first glance, it seemed that some of the figures had taken a dip compared to the average from previous years. Yet the overall number of shark attacks was still fairly notable – proving that people continued to come across the predators in open water.
The website’s post read, “The International Shark Attack File investigated 130 incidents of alleged shark-human interaction occurring worldwide in 2018. Sixty-six cases represent confirmed unprovoked shark attacks on humans. [And] 34 of the remaining cases were confirmed as provoked attacks on humans.”
The post continued, “Of the remaining 30 cases, nine involved bites to motorized or non-motorized marine vessels (boat attacks), four involved shark-inflicted post-mortem bites (scavenge), [and] five were cases in which the shark-human interaction could not be confirmed based on the available data.” From there, the website rounded off ISAF’s analysis.
The post concluded, “[There was] one case in which the attack involved an animal that may have been habituated to the presence of humans in the area, and one case involved a diver in a public aquarium. Ten cases were regarded as ‘doubtful,’ in which the incidents did not involve a shark – including one case attributed to an eel and [another] to a barracuda.”
ISAF also provided some intriguing information about the sharks themselves. You see, since it started compiling figures back in 1958, the database has listed which species of sharks have been involved in the most attacks down the years. And the leader in that regard might not be that surprising.
Yes, according to ISAF’s records, the great white shark has been responsible for over 300 unprovoked attacks – 80 of which resulted in someone’s death. The tiger shark, which has carried out 111 unprovoked attacks, is a distant second. After that comes the bull shark, with 100 incidents recorded.
And one of the most high-profile attacks of the past few years was actually captured on camera in 2015. At the time, in fact, a man named Mick Fanning was taking part in the J-Bay Open surfing competition in South Africa. Then he was approached by a great white shark while in the water.
Speaking to CNN later, Fanning recalled, “I sort of sensed something behind me. And then all of a sudden I just jumped on my board, and I was [like], ‘Okay, something’s going on.’” The surfer’s instincts proved to be correct, too, as the shark grabbed hold of his “leash,” which is the bit of material that connects a person to their board.
“I felt myself getting dragged under by my leash,” Fanning continued. “And the next thing I know, I saw his fin and went on my board. [When it came back] I went again on my board, and it was, like, me or the shark. I think I tried to punch it.” In the end, then, the great white broke his leash – and Fanning managed to hurriedly swim to safety.
Fanning’s comment brings up an interesting aside. When it comes to shark attacks, you see, one of the most common myths is that a swift punch to the shark’s body will scare it off. As you heard, Fanning even admitted that he had attempted to land a blow on the great white during their terrifying tussle. But experts aren’t actually too sure about the effectiveness of that particular move.
In fact, Ryan Johnson – who studies sharks firsthand – believes that a certain bit of contact could put you in real danger. He told the BBC in 2017, “If you start touching them around the snout, they can pick up your electro-receptions, and they know you’re possibly edible.” So Johnson claims that you should instead hit the fish with “hard” objects, such as cameras, rocks or sticks.
Johnson also dispelled the idea that swimming away from an approaching shark is a good move. In his view, in fact, this would only encourage the predator to continue its pursuit. The expert therefore put forward an alternative method that could save your life in that situation.
Johnson said, “The worst thing is to try to run away. It’s like throwing a stick for a dog. Fleeing often can entice a shark. Standing your ground and trying to make yourself big and going vertical in the water is always the best response to make a shark keep its distance from you.”
And if the shark does attack you, Johnson’s suggestion of using a “heavy object” to defend yourself has been backed up elsewhere. In fact, a wildlife writer named Richard Peirce agreed with that particular method – while also debunking another form of self-defense. According to him, you see, sharp weapons such as knives won’t help you.
On the subject of knives, Peirce told the BBC, “Gosh, no! [They are] hopeless, hopeless. All you’re going to do is excite the animal. You’ve got a little knife four, six, eight inches long, and you’ve got a two or three or four-meter white shark or a three or four-meter tiger shark [coming at you].”
Peirce added, “There’s no chance whatsoever of fighting the shark [with a knife]. And if you do start it bleeding, you could well attract other animals in.” And someone else also offered their own bit of advice on the matter of staving off shark attacks in March 2017 – as we’re about to discover.
Yes, Clint Emerson shared some words of wisdom during an interview with Business Insider. As previously mentioned, he used to serve as a Navy SEAL before calling it a day some two decades into the job. And given his experience of the world, Emerson believes that one method in particular will protect you in a shark attack.
Emerson said, “Keep your eyes on [the shark], first and foremost. Know that they attack bottom-up. They tend to come straight up at you. To be realistic, throwing a punch in the water is like slow motion. Anybody that can pull it off and actually cause damage, give me a call.”
“But, the gills and the eyes are probably your highest chance of creating pain,” Emerson explained. “Once again, just like with anything, you want to create pain, you want to induce pain, and hopefully it leaves you alone. That is the number one goal.” From there, the ex-Navy man had one last thing to say on the subject.
Emerson concluded, “Create distance if you can, but as a last resort, you go for the gills, you go for the eyes. You literally want to shove your thumbs into the shark’s eyes. If you grab the gills, you want to stick your fingers in the vents, and you want to try and rip them out.”
Business Insider also uploaded Emerson’s advice regarding shark attacks to YouTube in April 2017. The video has since earned more than 350,000 views and over 3,400 likes. Alongside that, it’s generated in excess of 630 comments, as online users shared their reactions.
A few of those users brought up an interesting point in their respective responses, though. One wrote, “How do I get close to [the shark’s] eyes and gills without him ripping me in half? I mean, there is a shark triple my size coming from below me like a freaking rocket with its mouth wide open.”
The person added, “I’m supposed to dodge that in slow motion water and attack his eyes and gills? Do I look like some damn underwater samurai to you?” And those words were echoed by a fellow YouTube user, who’d apparently had a bit of experience in the water themselves.
This user, who said they were a surfer, couldn’t help but agree with the previous sentiment. The thought of going on the offensive against a shark seemed overwhelming – especially knowing the damage that they can do. So off the back of that, this individual had some advice of their own to any other surfers out there.
The YouTube user wrote, “When you are in the position to stick your fingers in the gills, you will already miss a leg or a part of your stomach, if [we’re talking] about a single big shark. If it really tries to bite you, and you’re at least fortunate enough to have your board near you – try to bring the board between you two.”
“Aim for the eyes when it concentrates on the board,” the user added. “But I’m only a surfer who had the luck [of] never seeing one getting aggressive.” Despite those doubts, though, someone else claimed that Emerson’s tip does actually work – and they shared their experience in the comments section.
According to this particular user, one of their friends faced down the threat of an aquatic predator during a surfing session. And much like Fanning, they escaped the subsequent encounter with their life – but it did come at a cost. You see, the shark apparently left its mark before it was scared off.
The YouTube user wrote, “I’m in Australia, and years ago when [I was] in high school, a fellow classmate was attacked by a bull shark while surfing. Only 15 at the time, he managed to escape by hitting it in the gills. It let go of him and swam away.”
To conclude the dramatic story, the person added, “But [the shark chewed] on [my classmate’s] leg. He had about 30 to 50 stitches in the end. He was extremely lucky, as bull sharks are known for not letting go of their prey, as they eat most things.” So although he allegedly didn’t come out unscathed, this anecdotally proves that Emerson’s method has some weight to it.
And in March 2019 Arne Murke set off sailing with his brother off the coast of New Zealand – when disaster struck. The German was knocked overboard, in fact, and began fighting the rough waters raging around him. But when his thoughts turned to his young daughter, the struggling man knew that he couldn’t give up. Then Murke suddenly remembered a Navy SEAL’s trick that could possibly save his life.
This potentially fatal situation came about because Murke at the time was on a working vacation in New Zealand with his brother, Helge. And after the pair had spent some time working vineyards in the area, they discovered that there was another job the brothers had to do.
You see, part of the reason for the visit to New Zealand was for Murke and his brother to collect a yacht. The siblings had in fact been authorized to deliver the vessel, named Wahoo, to Brazil from its mooring in Auckland. But soon after the brothers set sail, their trip took a disastrous turn for the worse.
The Murkes were actually sailing south along the coast of New Zealand at around 2:00 p.m. But conditions were tricky; the ocean was rough, sending huge waves lashing at the yacht. A mainsheet onboard had then reportedly come loose, causing the boom to suddenly rotate and push Murke over the side of the vessel.
And as Murke fell from the boat, his arm apparently became entangled in a length of rope. Then, unable to free himself, the 30-year-old was towed alongside the vessel, the raging water surging around him. Yet if that weren’t already terrifying enough, the German was no doubt all too aware that he wasn’t wearing life preserver.
New Zealand’s Herald On Sunday later reported that Murke was then pulled beside the yacht for a couple of seconds. Fortunately for Murke, though, the force of the water seemingly helped to loosen the rope around his arm. So then the drowning man suddenly found himself adrift in the ocean in just the clothes that he had on his back.
Helge, who had seen what had happened, instantly sprung into action too. Yet although he tried to reach his brother, the conditions were apparently just too rough. So by the time Helge tried to deploy a rescue device, the current had already dragged Murke too far out. Helge therefore simply couldn’t get to his sibling to provide help.
The Herald On Sunday also related how Helge in fact attempted to save his drowning brother himself. But as Murke was apparently already engulfed in a ten-foot swell, he proved impossible to reach. And then, to make a dire situation even worse, the yacht’s motor seemingly burst.
Murke, then, was in big trouble: the waters were rough; his brother couldn’t reach him. And with the yacht now immobile due to a mechanical failure, the German was on his own. What’s more, he had no dinghy or lifeline to help keep him afloat, so the stricken sailor was in danger of becoming lost at sea.
Realizing that time was of the essence, however, Murke reportedly quickly came up with a plan. Amazingly, and with the situation working against him, a technique that Murke had once seen used by Navy SEALs suddenly popped into his mind. So the 30-year-old knew exactly what he needed to do to stay alive.
The trick that Murke recalled actually involves a pair of jeans, which, despite the absence of safety clothing, Murke was indeed wearing that day. And it’s a method that the German firmly believes saved his life. So what was the technique that the 30-year-old had remembered from all those years ago?
Well, it seems that jeans, with the clever use of knots in strategic places, can transform into flotation devices. “Luckily, I knew the trick with the jeans,” Murke explained to the Herald On Sunday in March 2019. “Without the jeans, I wouldn’t be here today; they were really the thing that saved me.”
“I saw it many years ago, and I always thought if I ever go overboard without a life jacket I’m going to do that,” Murke recalled. It’s lucky, then, that he remembered the approach with such great clarity. It’s luckier still, perhaps, that he was also able to execute it in such tricky conditions.
As Murke further described, “I took a deep breath, took [off] my jeans, made knots at the end of the legs and inflated the jeans. [I did this by pulling them out of the] water [to] get air inside and then push[ing them] under water. I had like an improvised life vest.” Talk about quick thinking…
So Murke did indeed now have a makeshift flotation aide to help keep him from plunging below the water. His problems, however, were far from solved. The sea was still rough, you see, and conditions were tricky. So, with no flares and his brother unable to reach him due to an immobilized yacht, how would the 30-year-old be found?
As Murke recalled, “The water was breaking over me, and it was getting cold. My legs started to shake. I needed to re-inflate the jeans because they lost a little bit of air; they were twisted somehow.” It’s clear, then, that despite his homemade buoy providing some assistance, the German still had a tough battle for survival ahead.
“I was quite exhausted so I went under,” Murke later explained. “But I couldn’t use my arms [to help stay afloat] because I didn’t want to lose my jeans.” But when he started to struggle in the water, Murke’s thoughts turned to the one thing that he knew would keep him going. Something very important indeed.
“I was under water, and I just thought… Do it for your daughter,” Murke further recalled. The German, you see, had been working in New Zealand to raise funds to support his little girl, a 10-month-old who lives in the Philippines with his partner. The yacht trip, then, was to provide for his family.
As Murke described, “While I was in the water, I was just thinking, ‘I can’t leave my daughter without a father.’ That was the biggest motivation.” So, with the idea of his daughter becoming fatherless spurring him on, the 30-year-old was not about to give up without a fight.
It was this train of thought, in fact, that forced Murke to gather a second wind. He later said, “I managed to somehow get the jeans right and floated again. That was one moment where I really thought I might die if I don’t give all my energy.”
All in all, then, Murke was at sea for around three and a half hours that afternoon. Search and rescue had, thankfully, been deployed pretty swiftly. And a chopper from Hawke’s Bay Rescue finally spotted Murke during their hunt for the German. Or, more accurately, the stricken sailor spotted the helicopter that was looking for him.
“Two times [the chopper] was really close to me, but they didn’t see me and flew away,” Murke recalled. “At that moment, I was really doubting if they were going to come back for me.” The ocean is vast, after all, and the German had no means of alerting his rescuers to his location.
Fortunately, however, the chopper soon returned. As Murke described, “It took another 20 minutes, but, luckily, I could see the helicopter again. They let down the rope, and I was so glad.” So the German was at last safe, and it was in a large part thanks to his improvised flotation device. So how, exactly, did this trick work?
Before going on, however, it’s worth noting that it is, of course, best to avoid situations where you may be in danger of becoming immersed in water without safety equipment. But if the unfortunate ever does occur and you happen to plunge into the sea, a river or lake with nothing but the clothes on your back, you might now be grateful for those garments.
It’s certainly useful, then, to know how to survive falling overboard without a life jacket, just as Murke did. And the pair of pants you’re wearing could actually be key to saving your life if you’re castaway with no sign of help. A simple pair of jeans, in fact, can seemingly be the difference between life and death.
There are, however, several variations of the Navy SEALs’ technique of converting a pair of jeans into a flotation device. Yet they all follow the same basic principles, and all produce the same result. The process is therefore highly adaptable to whichever situation you may find yourself in.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember is to try to stay calm. That will help you to focus on what you intend to do and how you will manoeuvre in the water to refashion your garments. So when you are calm and focused, begin by treading water and continue to do so throughout the process. This movement frees up your arms and keeps you afloat while you work.
The next thing you need to do is, of course, remove your shoes. Whatever shoes you happen to be wearing will in fact hinder your movement or possibly even drag you under, which is the last thing you need in such a situation. And besides, removing them will make it easier for you to take off your pants.
When your pants are off, then, bind the legs together so that they can trap air. The best method is to simply tie the pant legs to each other with a basic double knot. That is, cross the bottom of the jean legs over and pass one leg through the loop, then repeat with the slack above the first knot. Make sure it’s good and tight too.
Once the legs are tied together, close the waist of the jeans or pants. So fasten the zipper and slip the button through the button hole. This will give the air less opportunity to escape the jeans once the legs are full. There are then several ways to inflate the jeans, and each method works well.
The first way to get air into the jeans is what the SEALs apparently call the “overhead” technique. So, leading with the waist band, the jeans are whipped over the head, back to front, to fill the tied-off pants with air. This method reportedly uses the least energy, which is better utilized in other ways.
A second way to fill the jeans or pants with air is what is known as the “splash” method. So, by holding the waist of the pants at the surface of the water, air can be manually pushed into the tied-off garment, inflating the makeshift flotation aide. This techinique uses more energy than the overhead version, of course, but it can be equally as effective.
The final way to inflate the improvised life buoy is by simply blowing air into it. So take a deep breath, duck under the water and inflate the garment as if you were blowing up a balloon. This method is perhaps the most useful for everyone to remember, as it can also be deployed if your flotation device begins to lose air at any point.
Regardless of which method of inflation you choose, though, once the jeans are full of air they are then placed around the head, with each leg wrapped around the neck and the knot placed behind the head. The waist of the pants can then be clutched to the body with your arms to keep the makeshift life jacket full of air.
The principle here is that the air trapped in the garment will float on the water. This, in turn, removes the need for you to expend too much energy staying above the surface until help arrives. And remember, by utilizing the third method of inflation, the air can be topped up if necessary by blowing into the jeans.
Other garments, too, can be employed in the same way. In the absence of, or indeed in addition to, a pair of jeans or pants, a shirt will work just as well. The shirt can, for example, be taken off and tied at the sleeves and neck before being inflated and knotted at the bottom.
You may well have other clothes or accessories that could also double as flotation aides. A sun dress, for example, or a tank top. With the right fastening, in fact, even a canvas bag can turn into a makeshift buoy. It’s actually possible that any items of clothing that can be tied off and inflated will help. Just pray you didn’t opt for shorts that day.
Other practical advice includes jettisoning any objects about your person that might weigh you down. And if you can attach yourself to the makeshift buoys using shoe laces or belts then definitely do so. If you also happen to be wearing bright colors, then be aware that you already have a flag to draw attention.
It was lucky, then, that Murke knew this Navy SEALs technique. Without it, in fact, he may not have made it back alive. “I really want to thank everyone who was involved in the search and rescue operation,” the German told the Herald On Sunday. “They did an excellent job, and I’m very thankful.”
After the ordeal, though, Murke was forced to remain in New Zealand because the yacht Wahoo was deemed to be infested with a marine pest. Nevertheless, his life-threatening experience hasn’t put him off sailing again in the future. He said, “I know the risk, but I’m not scared of it. I’m just going to be super careful in the future.”