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Coast Guard Opens Fire as Shark Interrupts Swim Break

Animals

Shark Week may be over for the summer, but the marine predators patrol the world's oceans all year long.


That's what the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard ship discovered when their Pacific Ocean swim break was interrupted by an unexpected intruder.

"As if right out of a Hollywood movie, a 6-8 foot shark (no exaggeration) surfaced at the Rescue Door and was swimming toward 30-40 people in the water about 30 feet away," the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball (USCGC) wrote in a Tuesday Facebook post describing the incident.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball has been patrolling in the Pacific Ocean for the past several weeks conducting national security, search and rescue and fisheries operations, according to Military.com. To liven up the monotony of days at sea, the crew decided to take a swim break or "swim call," in official terminology.

More than 40 crew members, plus an inflatable unicorn, plunged into the water. Luckily, they had certain safety measures in place, such as a rescue swimmer, a smaller boat with extra crew and someone assigned to shark watch.

It is customary for Coast Guard and Navy vessels to set up shark or polar bear watches during breaks in these apex predators' habitats, Military.com explained. This precaution meant that bridge personnel were ready to alert the crew to the shark's presence.

To protect his crewmates, Maritime Enforcement Specialist 1st Class Samuel Cintron opened fire on the advancing shark to try and scare it away, CNN reported.

The USCGC described what happened next:

ME1 Cintron fired a well-aimed burst right at/on top of the shark to protect shipmates just feet away. It turned away for a few seconds then turned back. We kept directing people out of the water while keeping a clear line of sight on the shark. ME1 fired bursts as needed to keep the shark from his shipmates with amazing accuracy. The shark would wave off with each burst but kept coming back toward our shipmates.

The crew managed to get everyone out of the water safely, including the unicorn. And it appeared that the shark emerged unscathed too, a Coast Guard public affairs spokesperson told Military.com.

"Our goal was to keep it away from shipmates, not harm it if possible," the USCGC wrote on Facebook. "It was most likely curious and not looking for a meal. We picked our location to try and avoid such an encounter but it is their ocean after all. It later joined a few smaller buddies that showed up and they swam off together. "

A review of video footage of the incident revealed the shark to be a Long-Fin Mako or Pelagic Thresher Shark.

"Not something to mess with!" the USCGC wrote.

Mako sharks have been involved in three non-fatal unprovoked shark attacks, according to the Florida Museum's International Shark Attack File.

The overall risk of shark attacks is extremely low, according to the file. Any given individual has a one in 3,748,067 chance of dying in one.

In fact, sharks are at much greater risk from humans than we are from sharks, the museum pointed out.

"Most of the world's shark populations are in decline or exist at greatly reduced levels, as a consequence of overfishing and habitat loss. On average, there are only four fatalities attributable to unprovoked attacks by sharks worldwide each year. By contrast, fisheries remove about 100 million sharks and rays annually," it wrote.

Shark attacks are even rarer in the history of Navy or Coast Guard swim calls. Military.com found reports of one shark that turned up during a swim break off a submarine in Hawaii in 2009, but it did not have to be driven away by gunfire.

"We have hundreds of years at sea between all of us and no one has seen or heard of a shark actually showing up during a swim call," the USCGC wrote on Facebook. "This goes to show why we prepare for any and everything. We just didn't think it would be a swim call shark attack!"

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