Shark 'bites surfer' at Bantham in Devon


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Rich Thomson’s hand was cut and his thigh was bruised in the encounter

A surfer said he fought with a “small shark” after being bitten off Bantham beach in south Devon.

Teacher Rich Thomson, 30, was left with a bruised leg and cuts to his hands after he hit it on the head.

No other incident of this type has happened to surfers in UK waters, according to experts who said the shark could have been a smooth hound.

Mr Thomson said the shark, estimated at about 1m (3ft) long, “grabbed me on the leg”.

More on this story and others from Devon

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Mr Thomson said he has not been put off going back in the water and he was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time”

“I turned round and saw this little shark was on my thigh and wriggling its head side to side,” said the seasoned surfer.

“I hit it on the head and it swam off.

“My hand was cut to pieces.”

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Cuts on his hand are testament to the abrasiveness of the shark’s skin

He believes his thick winter wetsuit protected him from worse injury.

“I had a quite a sizeable bruise about three inches across,” he said.

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Smooth hound sharks

  • Found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean from the British Isles to South Africa, and in the Mediterranean Sea, Madeira, and the Canary Islands
  • Although they can grow to 2m (6.5ft), their usual maximum size is 1.5m (5ft)
  • Smooth hounds frequent both inshore and offshore habitats, often over tidal flats, off estuary mouths and in shallow bays

Source: European Federation of Sea Angler

“I went home and told my wife I was late because I had been bitten by a shark,” he said.

“She said ‘I’ve heard that one before’, but it was true.”

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Leon Petersons

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Rich Thomson: “I have never caught any fish while fishing but the biggest one I’ve ever caught attached itself to my leg”

“It won’t stop me going back in the water and it shouldn’t stop anyone, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ali Hood, director of conservation at the Plymouth-based Shark Trust, said the small shark “would likely have been disorientated” by the “turbid, dynamic water” of the river mouth.

“British waters are home to a wide diversity of sharks with a number of coastal species such as smooth hound, tope and cat sharks often reported by beachgoers and water users,” she said.

Marc Dando, wildlife publisher and illustrator, said he thought the shark was probably a smooth hound.

But neither he nor Ms Hood had heard of a shark of any sort biting a surfer in British waters.

Close encounters with sharks in the UK

“It would be a shock because all sharks have powerful jaws,” Mr Dando said.

“All sharks can be very territorial. It was probably just telling the person to go away and struck out.”

Pupils at Kinsgbridge Community College, where Mr Thomson teaches chemistry, have bought him shark ties and have dubbed him “Sharkbait” and “Nemo”.

“I have never caught any fish while fishing but the biggest one I’ve ever caught attached itself to my leg,” he said.

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