Marathon swimmer Mike Spalding was 10 hours into an epic 33-mile voyage between Maui and the Big Island when his escort boat lost sight of him. Being the middle of the night and all, the captain was forced to fire up his lights to reestablish contact with the kayaker at Spalding’s side.
This, ironically enough, is the absolute last resort when you get lost swimming in the darkness. With the kayak’s light now blazing as well, the creatures of the nighttime sea began to take notice. Squid amassed around Spalding as he slogged on, forming a slowly moving bait ball. He took a hit from one, and then another and another. After the fourth bump, Spalding felt a sharp pain in his chest.
It was the first bite, albeit just a nibble. The 62-year-old (that’s not a typo) Spalding broke for the kayak.
“As I was eggbeatering to get into the kayak with my legs perpendicular to the surface of the water, I felt this sharp hit on my leg,” he told WIRED. “It wasn’t painful, but it was like you got punched or something. And so I ran my fingers down my calf and I felt this hole.
“It’s a bigass hole.”
Spalding had earned the dubious title of first living human confirmed to have been attacked by a cookiecutter shark, which gored a 3-inch-wide crater in his leg. At no more than two feet long, this diminutive terror nevertheless packs a set of teeth that are bigger than any other shark relative to body size, according to George Burgess, an ichthyologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. It’s a glow-in-the-dark evolutionary marvel of the open ocean that takes on beasts hundreds of times its size, including submarines. And it almost always wins.