By Amanda Fortin
Photo credit: Wyland
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy routinely team up at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Twenty months ago, however, the agencies joined forces at the remote Pacific refuge in a way that was anything but routine. Together, they administered urgent first aid to TNC diver Kydd Pollock after he suffered a vicious shark bite nearly 1,000 miles from the nearest doctor or hospital.
The amateur triage was so dramatic that the Discovery Channel is scheduled to air a reenactment of it in August during its wildly popular annual Shark Week.
Nov. 11, 2010, began normally for Pollock. He and four other divers, including refuge manager Amanda Meyer, were collecting data about the Napoleon wrasse on the reef terrace, about 2½ miles from Palmyra Atoll’s research station. Soon, though, the divers noticed a pregnant gray reef shark caught in one of their nets.
“The shark was tangled and beginning to roll around in the net to try and escape it,” Pollock recalls. He and his colleagues freed the shark, and considered their work with the animal done.
“We saw her swimming away slowly,” Pollock says, “but she was obviously disoriented, and started to swim back toward the net.”
Pollock dove down to gather a remnant of the net so the shark wouldn’t become tangled again. Then, he says, “I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. So I looked over my shoulder, and all I saw was an open mouth full of teeth coming down on me.”
The shark bit Pollock twice over the top of his head and facemask. “On the second bite, it began to shake me violently and I remember thinking, ‘This is really happening’,” he says. The shark then backed off, spat out the intact mask, only to return and make a third glancing bite across Pollock’s nose and left eye before finally swimming away.
Still conscious, but “pretty out of it,” Pollock made it to the surface and was helped into the dive support vessel.
“All I could think of when I saw him was the need to get him the best care possible as quickly as possible,” says Meyer, who sped Pollock back to the research station.
Ned Brown, TNC’s field station manager at Palmyra Atoll, was on duty when the dive team radioed in. “They didn’t say much, just that Kydd was bitten and needed help,” says Brown, who recalls quickly assembling medical supplies.
When Pollock reached the research station with his wounds wrapped in a towel, Meyer and Brown wasted no time.
Brown called Pacific International Maritime Medical Services (PIMMS), an Oregon–based agency that provides remote care to shipping vessels. Over the next 2½ hours, doctors on the phone walked Meyer and Brown through each step of emergency care for Pollock’s injury.
Meyer, who is also Pollock’s girlfriend, alternated between needle–wielding and providing moral support. “It was so tough because I wanted to tend to his wounds and hold his hand at the same time,” says Meyer, who administered lidocaine injections as Pollock’s lacerations were being sutured.
After each set of sutures, Meyer and Brown downloaded a photograph of their progress to a computer and sent it to PIMMS for further instruction.
“The whole situation seemed very calm on both ends,” says PIMMS operator Clint Kennedy. “Everyone was collected and, although this was the first time our company has instructed on a shark bite, the Palmyra team seemed experienced and in control.”
Meyer, Pollock and Brown agree that, under the circumstances, things went smoothly—although Meyer doesn’t consider herself medically experienced.
“I have wilderness first aid and CPR training, but by no means am I a medical doctor,” she says. “I had sewn up plenty of fish, but never a human!”
Pollock was back on the job two days after the bite, the only one he has incurred in 21 years of diving. He has fully recovered from his injuries. All that remain are faint scars and added respect for Meyer.
“She worked efficiently and bravely with the team to get me taken care of,” Pollock says. “I couldn’t have asked for better care.”
Amanda Fortin is a Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) intern in the Pacific Region office in Portland.