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A tiger shark was chewing on her foot

5/11/2007

How to avoid shark attack

Peller Marion enjoys swimming with the turtles in Hawaii, but she
was surprised when one began tugging on her foot.

Turned out it wasn't a turtle, and it wasn't tugging.

A hungry tiger shark had chomped down on her foot and was filleting
the appendage with its razor-sharp teeth like it was a meaty
appetizer.

"I saw it from the side,"' the California woman said by phone
Wednesday from her hospital bed in Maui. "It looked like a wall of
gray. I instantly said, 'Holy (smokes), this isn't a turtle.' "

Marion, who swims regularly with members of the Tiburon Peninsula
Club, was in the water about 8:30 a.m. off Keawakapu Beach in Kihei,
Maui, when she was attacked by the shark, estimated to be about 14
feet long.

The 63-year-old author of four books, including the nonfiction
"Career Tune Up'' and the fictional "Searching for the G Spot,''
immediately pulled her foot away.

Breathing through a snorkel, one fin
gone, she began swimming like mad for the shore about 25 yards away,
trying hard not to panic.

"I didn't hear the 'Jaws' music. I heard my heart pounding,''
Marion said.

By the time Marion stumbled onto the sand, her foot was a bloody
mess.

"You could look through my foot to the bone,'' she said. "There
is a huge gash, tendons were slashed, joints were popped and there
were marks on the bone like the teeth had scraped across.''

The attack happened about an hour after a tiger shark bumped a
surfer at nearby Kamaole Beach Park II, prompting officials to issue a
shark alert and close a 1-mile stretch of coastline.

Keawakapu is about a mile and a half from Kamaole Beach, so it was
not closed. Marion said there were no warnings or she never would have
entered the water.

The tiger shark is named for the dark strips on its gray back,
which fade in adulthood. It is notorious for its jaw strength and
heavily serrated teeth. One of the largest sharks in the ocean, tigers
generally roam shallow reefs and lagoons at night and can cut open the
bodies of large sea turtles.

"They are what we call our apex predator,'' said John Naughton, a
marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration fisheries service in Hawaii. "They are the big boys at
the top of the food chain, like the white sharks are in colder waters
like Northern California.''

Tigers are second only to great whites in the number of recorded
human deaths. They have been known to consume sailors who have fallen
overboard, but Naughton said they do not hunt people.

"Very commonly, what we see is one bite and then they are gone,''
he said. "It seems to be mistaken identity.''

Naughton said Hawaii averages two to four attacks a year. "It's
more dangerous to drive 100 mph, but being eaten by an animal seems to
really get people's attention,'' he said.

Marion, a professor of psychology at Dominican University in San
Rafael, Calif., underwent a two-hour operation at Maui Memorial
Medical Center. She is facing long hours of rehabilitation.

Marion plans to go back in the water as soon as she can.

"I just feel fortunate that I'm alive. If (the shark) had followed
me, I wouldn't be alive today,'' she said.

Reach Peter Fimrite at pfimrite@sfchronicle.com. For more
stories, visit scrippsnews.com.