Michael Cohen, Shark Attack Victim in South Africa

great white shark, Fish Hoek bay, South Africa
great white shark, Fish Hoek bay, South Africa
Alison Kock, marine biologist
Alison Kock, marine biologist

Michael Cohen is the man who was attacked by a great white shark while swimming in Fish Hoek Beach, Cape Town, South Africa, in September 2011.

On Fish Hoek beach, sharks are a common occurrence, especially in September when for some reason they come closer to the shore.

Other times of the year, they get well fed by the seals on an a local island situated 5 miles offshore.

In South Africa, great white sharks are a protected species. Their numbers are dwlindling world-wide due to overfishing and finning, which is the removal of fins from a live shark to use in sharks fin soup, which is an Asian delicacy.

This could explain why South African authorities have not installed shark nets round this popular tourist beach.

While shark nets do indeed protect bathers, they cause the death of all sea animals caught up in them, including sharks.

So, instead the authorities placed shark spotters around the beach. these people, from an elevated area, constantly scan the seas the shark sightings, and communicate with each via radio links.

When a shark is spotted, flags are raised to warn bathers to stay out of the water, and a siren is sounded.

This is a simple but very effective method of preventing shark attacks.

You must remember that sharks are killing machines, even unintentionally. You cannot hope to make friends with a shark, it is not in their nature.

The best way humans and sharks can co-exist is with mutual respect. They are kings of the ocean, we are kings of the land.

Now, Michael Cohen, a 42 year man who should know better, to be honest, is quoted as having said to his pals before he was attacked, “If a shark takes me, blame me and not the shark.”

Mr Cohen was in the habit of swimming even when the shark warnings were in place.

The shark spotters at Fish Hoek Beach were aware of this. So concerned were they, that they had arranged several meetings with Mr Cohen warning him of the dangers, the last one being in February of 2011, 7 months before he was attacked.

Their boss, marine biologist Alison Kock, 34, was quoted by the Press as saying

“We were shocked to hear about Mr Cohen. I have huge ­sympathy for him and his family, but sadly he was already known to us.

“We had even discussed his behaviour at a meeting after he repeatedly failed to listen to our warnings.

“We don’t have the power to ­physically stop people from entering the water, but it is baffling that someone would choose to ignore the safety advice. The attack on Mr Cohen was ­devastating for the community and for our team.”

The rescuers reach Michael Cohen after he'd suffered from a shark attack
The rescuers reach Michael Cohen after he'd suffered from a shark attack | Source

On the day Michael Cohen was attacked, the shark had been spotted and warning flags had already been in place for 90 minutes before he entered the water.

He must have had a dare-devil personality! He knew the risks, he had been warned numerous times.

He'd always got away with it before, but not this time, sadly.

Douglas Drysdale, 61, and Hugh Till, 66, were driving along a road nearby when they spotted the 9 foot long shark in close proximity to a bather in the crystal clear waters of Fish Hoek Bay.

The drove as quickly as they could to the nearest point, parked up and rushed on to the shore screaming and shouting to the bather to get out of the water.

But it was too late. They saw a 'disturbance' in the water, and realised someone had been attacked.

Bravely they entered the water and waded out to rescue the bather.

At this point the shark had retreated but it remained frighteningly close nearby.

This is a common activity of great white sharks. They take a bite and retreat, waiting for their victim to die before moving in for the kill.

It is widely believed that sharks do not like eating humans because we have too many bones. However, it is their usual routine to attack a seal, wait for it to bleed out and return for the kill and their supper.

On this occasion, the great white shark took off the victim's right leg, and severely damaged the left, with just one bite.

The two rescuers, having reached the victim, who was later named as Michael Cohen. later reported that as they were attempting to guide Mr Cohen back to shore, a seal appeared and swam repeatedly between the three men and the shark, as if offering protection.

While that makes a nice news story that people will feel heartened to read, it is also a fact that the appearance of the other two men would be enough to keep the shark at bay.

Sharks prefer a solitary victim. That is a fact. if you want to swim in shark infested waters, then there is safety in numbers as sharks do not tend to attack groups.

Douglas Drysdale and Hugh Till drag Michael Cohen the shore
Douglas Drysdale and Hugh Till drag Michael Cohen the shore | Source

Douglas and Hugh guided Mr Cohen into shallow water, and then dragged him to safety up the beach.

Their heroism didn't end there.

Michael Cohen was bleeding to death. His femoral artery had been severed and blood was spurting from the stump that was left of his leg.

With the belts from their trousers, they applied a tourniquet that without doubt saved Mr.Cohen's life.

The surgeon who later attended to Michael Cohen, Professor Andrew Nichol, is quoted as saying

“They saved his life. He is very lucky to be alive.

“We replaced his entire blood volume almost twice.”

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Comments 17 comments

Karen N profile image

Karen N 4 years ago from United States

Very scary, having a little too much imagination as a child I've always been deathly afraid of sharks.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

Me too! I wouldn't go in the water if I thought one was there. The last time I swam in the Med was when I still believed that there wasn't any there! Having said that, those South Africans have a great system in place, with shark spotters and everything. They just need people to listen to them! I shudder to think how this guy must be suffering, and how he is going to suffer for the rest of his life, but WHY oh WHY did he insist on swimming alongside sharks? They command respect.


writer20 profile image

writer20 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

I'm so glad they men saved Mr Cohen.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

Yes it was very brave of them. But, these knew men that it is rare for a shark to attack more than one person in the same incident. The shark will either keep going for the person they attacked initially, or back off all together.

It is worth knowing in case you or me, or anyone reading here finds themselves in that situation. Get that person out of the water! You are not statistically likely to be attacked while assisting. But it was great that they knew how to stop the arterial bleeding - they really did save his life!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 4 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Wow, this is horrible. The guys that pulled Mr. Cohen out od the water are real heroes.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

They did a fantastic job! Well done, both Douglas Drysdale and Hugh Till - you both deserve a medal!

Not only for rescuing Mr Cohen, but for applying the tourniquet that ultimately stopped him from bleeding to death right there on the beach.


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

Cohen has been silent since his attack. What became of him?


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

I have absolutely no idea, but there is no bad news about him or the media would have reported it.


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

You are right of course:)

I am curious. I was at the beach once when I noticed this person being rather brusque with a lifesaver chatting to him. I remarked on it to my companion and we watched for a while.

Perhaps I am not quite kind about this either but I would have liked to see him issue a statement since he built up such a history in snubbing people and then had such a huge investment from so many people to save him.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

Was that Fish Hoek Beach? I see you live in South Africa, in which case you probably know more about it than me. From all accounts he ignored their warnings not to swim when the shark alert flag was flying, and this had been going on for a while, so in a way he caused his own misfortune. If he has since apologised to those people, or thanked them for saving him, it never hit the www, else Google would have alerted me (I have alerts set up for any news to do with shark attacks anywhere). Perhaps he is still poorly and will do in the future.


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

Hi:) Yes, I rather like the False Bay - Fish Hoek stretch of beach. Have this friend who believes tat twice a year or so, with my birthday and December, he should take me for a drive and buy me a snack. He used to like the camps bay side of the world but I converted him to False Bay:)and so we saw this scene play out twice. Heard nothing here and found nothing on the internet. On Friday a youth was killed in a shark attack on the False Bay coast but in the Gordon's Bay area: 20yr old champion body board surfer. Lost a leg and bled to death. Reminded me again of Cohen.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

Yes i've added him to my shark attack 2012 hub - http://hubpages.com/education/Shark-Attacks-2012

What a tragic thing to happen, and I really feel for this boy's family. It seems surfers have some golden rules to avoid shark attacks and this lad paid attention to them. (group together, don't surf when yellowtails are present etc). The waters where he died looked wonderfully inviting, but there is no way in a million years that I would enter waters where sharks may be present. Just no way!


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

There are always sharks around our coast- also in the colder Camps Bay Sea Point side but more in False Bay. If you want to be in the sea here you will share with sharks so it is about staying close to shore and staying off boards and out of deeper water when sharks are in closer. But people will do as they want to and sharks will do as they do... Still, more people die on our roads hey!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

This is so true - it all has to be kept in proportion. I read somewhere that we are far more likely to win the lottery or get struck by lightning than get bitten by a shark. I know which I'd rather have!


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

Lottery, lottery:)


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK Author

No competition, is there? LOL A choice of being bitten to death by a shark or winning the lottery. Perhaps I should have used the 'struck by lightning' analogy and stuck to it!


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

Been struck by electricity - gives one quite a jolt; been bitten by a dog, twice- in one my stockings saved me, consider that my shark suit and in the other the mite, no, the mutt, went for my heel- but a bite is a bite so ...

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