Wednesday, January 24, 2007

'Head In Shark' Diver's Story Worth A Million? Or More?

"I Could Feel The Teeth Crunching Up And Down"

UPDATE : Eric Nerhus, the abalone diver who was almost bitten in half by a great white shark off the coast of New South Wales, has given his first interview to Channel Nine's A Current Affair, from his hospital bed :

"I'm just an ordinary working man, a family man, who just wanted to survive very, very badly, at all costs...

"I went straight into its mouth, front onwards, and my shoulders, my head and one arm went straight down into its throat and I could feel the teeth crunching up and down on my weight vest...

"It knocked the [air] regulator out of my mouth so I didn't have any oxygen, and then it started to shake me and I thought 'Oh no, I know what happens when they shake you. That's when they cut off the biggest piece of meat they can get'.

"I put my left hand down the side of its face because my head, shoulders and right arm were right down in its throat … half my body was in its mouth.

"I felt down to the eye socket, and with my stiff fingers I poked my fingers into the eye socket, which the shark reacted to in a way that [it] opened its mouth a bit and I tried to wriggle out."

Eric should be out of hospital by the weekend.

Yesterday's story : 41 year old abalone diver, Eric Nerhus, survived an incredible encounter with a three metre long Great White shark. It tried to bite off his head and swallow him whole. He poked it in the eye and escaped.

Now he has to survive the media feeding frenzy.

Nerhus has picked up instant-celebrity deal broker, Harry M. Miller, and one of the biggest selling tabloid magazines and a key television network have already secured exclusive rights to
his story.

Eric was attacked by the shark less than 48 hours ago.

And those deals, easily worth six figures, are just for Australia.

Agent Harry M. Miller has an interesting stable of 'stars', including Lindy "A dingo's got my baby!" Chamberlain, a former prime minister, a man who survived days buried under the ruins of a ski lodge alongside his dead wife, and a fleet of former Big Brother contestants.

Mr Miller's website has a page on 'crisis management', which translates to 'We will help you cash in on your success, or unfortunate circumstance'.

Or as Miller puts it :

"Sometimes people find themselves in a period of crisis, be it due to a personal event, a natural disaster or another unavoidable situation. Often, in what can be a time of emotional vulnerability, they find themselves the focus of media attention and, understandably, do not feel equipped to deal with it."

American television and cable networks have been on the phone to Miller trying to cut their own deals. But Miller is believed to be holding out for the Dame Of Pain, Oprah Winfrey, before he signs away US rights to Eric's story.

The international bidding rights war is now officially on.

Considering the circulation of the tabloid magazine and the potential audience in Australia for a one hour television special where Eric would tell his tale, along with the mandatory book deal, and perhaps a few advertising gigs (selling tuna?) he's going to be a millionaire.

Miller's usual strategy is to score a big fee locally, in Australia, and then pick up five figure, and the occasional six figure deal, wherever he can find them in the rest of the world. It all adds up.

Hopefully, when the doco about Eric is made, there will lots of information and history about the freelance abalone diving industry in Australia.

These divers live hard, dangerous lives, for minor riches that are something close to a lottery, and few Australians are even aware that people do this for a living.So what's it like to be an Australian abalone diver?

Imagine working in an office block where two ever-hungry tigers patrol the corridors and ride the elevators from floor to floor.

That's the above water corporate equivalent of being an abalone diver.Let's hope Eric survives his encounters with the media circus, and doesn't have to poke anyone in the eye to escape, again.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

Abalone divers are today heading back into southern NSW waters where the shark attacked Mr Nerhus, saying the incident would not stop them from working.

John Smythe, an abalone fisherman from the tight-knit Eden diving community, said divers would be taking extra precautions but the attack would not stop them from diving today.

"I think it [the shark attack] will make people think, but I don't think it will make people suddenly walk off the job," Mr Smythe told ABC Radio.

"We're in their [the sharks'] domain and you have to respect that. We do take precautions. If you are diving in spots like Cape Howe ... your boat will be sitting directly above you and when you do your ascents and descends you'd be looking.

"So to put it in perspective, you can make your diving a lot safer but nevertheless you are in their [the sharks'] domain."

Mr Smythe, who was on a recreational dive north of Eden at the time of yesterday's attack, says seal colonies in the area often attract white pointer sharks.

"In 32 years of diving I've seen two big whites just cruising in the distance ... I have seen a big shark at this time of year and one in the middle of winter," he said.

"Cape Howe is one of those particularly sharky spots, there's a lot of currents going on along there, it's basically the start of the Bass Strait and there are seal colonies.

"It's common to see seals with their heads bitten off, white pointers just come in for a bit of a taste."

Mr Smythe said the abalone diving community agreed with shark specialists that the shark probably mistook Mr Nerhus for a seal.

"When I found out that he was diving on the bottom on the rocks, where it's a very weedy habitat, and mentioned that to other divers, the comment straight away was that he was mistaken for a seal," Mr Smythe said.

"No doubt the shark sensed movement in the reed and went in to discover that this guy would put up a fight, not like your ordinary seal."

Marine experts unanimously agree that the shark, once it got taste of Eric, would have tried to spit him back out again. And the poke in the eye, and the smack across the gills with an abalone pick, would have only encouraged the white pointer to let him go.

Previously : 'Head In Shark' Abalone Diver's Miraculous Survival Story, 30 Feet Below