Fin Is In

Shark Shenanigans Day

"I felt something slam into me ... and it spun me around about 180 degrees," says shark-attack victim Dawn Schauman, who will be among the speakers at the Miami Museum of Science's glibly named Shark Shenanigans Day.

Schauman's survival story makes reality-based dramas like Survivor look like a day at Pee-wee's Playhouse. By phone the former professional lifeguard patiently recounts her ordeal. One October morning in 1993, she was doing her daily laps in the ocean at Treasure Shores Beach (about three hours north of Miami), when a ten-foot bull shark chomped on her extremities. Cue ominous Jaws music here. Alone in the murky water and six-and-a-half months pregnant, she had "visions of a shark coming up and grabbing me and pulling me under." But she believes the creature confused her with baitfish and, mistaken, took off. "If it wanted me, it would've come back, because when I was treading water, there was just blood everywhere.

"I did start to panic and hyperventilate, and then I calmed myself down. I just started swimming in with one arm and one leg ... and when I reached the beach ... I was probably about 100 yards from the lifeguard station when [the other lifeguard] realized something was wrong."

A shortfin mako shark
A shortfin mako shark

Very wrong. The incident sent Schauman into shock, induced premature labor, and caused nerve damage to her left hand and leg. But Schauman, now a 34-year-old mother of three, isn't complaining. She has appeared in articles and on talk shows around the world, educating others about lowering the risk of becoming fish food. The shark woman, as she calls herself, goes global with her Website SharkSurvivor.com in June, and her husband is writing a book about her peppy endurance, called Why Is She Smiling?

But even for someone who quips, not entirely joking, that giving birth was more painful than a shark bite, serenity has its limits: "I don't swim laps in the ocean anymore; I still get in and swim and I still surf, but if something hits my leg, I jump a mile."

 
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