A quick-thinking surfer is recovering after punching a shark who attacked him off the coast of Oregon Monday afternoon.
Joseph Tanner, a trauma nurse, was on the waves near Indian Beach in Ecola State Park when he was bitten on his upper thigh and lower leg.
Shaunna White of Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue tells PEOPLE that when her squad arrived on the scene Tanner was surprisingly calm and his wounds were being attended to by other surfers.
“The whole time he was with us he was very calm, he was making jokes, even though there was so much pain he was probably in,” she says. “I’ve never seen a patient that calm considering the extensive wounds that he already had.”
According to a police news release, Tanner was in the water with two other surfers at the time of the attack; one noticed his odd movement into the water, then noticed what appeared to be a dorsal fin. It was then that Tanner yelled to swim to shore.
Once ashore, 29-year-old West Woodworth helped tie up the surfer’s bitten leg using the surfboard leash as a tourniquet to stop blood flow. He and other surfers carried Tanner on his board to the parking lot, where they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
“The patient, he was amazing,” says White. “He was very calm when we got there, and he told us he had punched a shark. I thought he was kidding until he got in the ambulance and repeated it.”
White explains that when Tanner was pulled from the surfboard he retaliated.
“He immediately went into fight or flight mode and he fought. He punched it a few times and that’s when the shark released him,” she says. “He got back on his surfboard and paddled back to shore.”
White says Tanner’s training as a trauma nurse came in handy during and after the attack.
“There were tons of surfers throughout the day, and of all people, a nurse, a trauma nurse no less, got bit and knew exactly what to do,” says White. “It could have been anyone else who would’ve freaked out or not been calm. It was him. That’s what blows my mind — that of all people it was him.”
The Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue wrote on their Facebook page that “the victim was a great person to deal with, and will no doubt completely recover albeit with scars to show.”
The last shark attack in Oregon was recorded in Nov. 2013, according to the Global Shark Attack File database, although sharks have been sighted near that beach more recently.
Even so, “it was definitely a shock to all of us when we heard dispatch go off and say shark attack,” says White. “We’re still going to talk about that for a long time, that we went to a shark bite on Cannon Beach.”
Earlier this year, George Burgess, director of Florida’s Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, offered some tips to avoid attracting the underwater predators.
For instance, avoid clothing that contrasts strongly with the color of the water, such as neon yellow, avoid swimming at dusk and dawn when sharks are feeding, and avoid swimming and surfing solo.
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“If you become isolated, that’s when a shark targets you, that’s why fish swim in schools. There’s safety in numbers,” Burgess said.
And if the shark is biting you, fight back — as shark attack survivor Tanner did. Burgess says to aim for its vulnerable spots: the eyes and the five gill slits right behind the eyes.
“If you can poke the eyes, gouge the eyes, the shark will let go. The five gill slits are sensitive … if you claw there you will draw blood and pain.”
However, he also adds that “in all cases, your correct strategy is to get the hell out of there. Just keep in mind that the more splashing you do the more attractive you become.”