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Shark-bite kits are strategically placed at beach access points for use in the case of emergencies. We find out more about when they were introduced and how they can be used.

On 14 July 2021 a Capetonian was enjoying an early morning surf at The Point in Jeffreys Bay when he was knocked off his board. At the time, he didn’t really know what was going on, but caution dictated, and he and two fellow surfers decided to make their way back to shore. It was only then that the surfer realised he’d been bitten by a shark, as there was blood pouring from his knee. His wife instructed him to lie down so they could try stop the bleeding.

At about this time, Station 2 (Bakoven) Sea Rescue volunteer Russel Goodman arrived on the scene. He’d been on a surf holiday himself for the past week, staying at a nearby house. Despite the casualty insisting that he wasn’t in pain, there was a lot of blood and stopping the bleeding was Russel’s first priority. He asked bystanders to fetch the NSRI shark-bite kit positioned near the beach access point. They brought him the kit and also called NSRI Jeffreys Bay’s emergency number. This was about 7am. Russel cut away parts of the surfer’s wetsuit and started packing the wound with gauze. By 7.15am emergency services arrived on scene, stabilised the casualty and prepared him for transportation to hospital.

Every second counts

In cases like these, every second counts. “Shark-bite victims need assistance immediately,” says NSRI’s Training Manager Graeme Harding. “The big thing is to be able to stop the bleeding,” he adds.

Graeme recalls that in 1999 there were two incidents in the Knysna area that prompted the NSRI to introduce emergency-care kits for shark-bite victims. One was out at Buffalo Bay, about 25 minutes from Knysna. Because of its location, though, it takes rescue crews over an hour to get there. The casualty in this instance survived, but a second shark-bite incident resulted in the death of a young bodyboarder just off Murphy’s Reef, a popular surfing and swimming spot.

“We don’t want a situation where we get to people too late. Immediate first aid is a priority for shark-bite victims. After that incident off Murphy’s Reef, Buffalo Bay restaurant teamed up with us and we were able to provide a full shark-bite kit that could be housed at the restaurant. Dr Berend Maarsingh from Station 12 (Knysna) helped us stock it with pressure bandages and tourniquets. We also provided an info sheet so that people know how to use its contents,” Graeme adds.

Most coastal NSRI stations are now equipped with specialised shark-bite kits, and crew are trained in applying the specific medical resources. After a fatal shark-bite incident in 2013 in Jeffreys Bay, the Supertubes Surfing Foundation assisted NSRI to position shark-bite kits at Supertubes, Upper Point and Lower Point, which are the most frequented surf spots of Jeffreys Bay. There is also an additional shark-bite kit at Station 37 (Jeffreys Bay), which is located directly in front of a surf zone called Kitchen Windows. Station 37 (Jeffreys Bay) keeps its shark-bite kits in wooden boxes with a combination lock (to reduce vandalism and theft) at these spots for fast access in case a shark-bite incident happens. A bystander must simply call the local NSRI emergency number on the box to get the code.

The call taker, usually a duty coxswain or the station commander or deputy, will then activate EMS and coordinate the operation from that point onward. The people on the scene can use the kit to apply immediate first aid. Graeme mentions another incident, not involving a shark-bite incident, where the kit was used to assist a kitesurfer who had been hit by a board and was in urgent need of medical attention to stop the bleeding from his injury.

When not located at NSRI bases, the kits are positioned in places of high visibility so that they can be accessed quickly.

In the last year, the following stations were equipped with shark-bite kits: Station 3 (Table Bay),

Station 16 (Strandfontein), Station 23 (Wilderness), Station 37 (Jeffreys Bay) and Station 47 (Kei Mouth). In the Plettenberg Bay area, kits were installed at Robberg Beach, Central beach, Keurbooms, Lookout Beach and Nature’s Valley.

Kits are checked at regular intervals and restocked when necessary.

If you’d like to make a donation towards stocking a shark-bite kit, please contact the NSRI on info@searescue.org.za

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