Updated: Oct 11
✦ Chantelle Doyle's life-affirming attitude towards sharks after her encounter with one brings hope to protecting the planet.
Shark. What comes to your mind when you see this word?
You get an interesting variety of answers. Whether you think Steven Spielberg, marine life preservation or Chinese delicacy, you’ll never truly experience the power of this word until you’ve had a personal encounter with one.
In 2020, Chantelle Doyle, an environmental scientist, was attacked by a 2.5m shark at Shelly Beach in Port Macquarie. Before you start thinking you know what this story is going to be about, read on. You’d be surprised, and be motivated to act differently.
This is not a harrowing story to shock people. This is a story about why we need to help the shark that bit Chantelle.
Read about our article "The Fin Arts" whose objective is to bring the message of shark conservation efforts into everyday lives, into homes and offices in order to create a conversation, raise awareness and educate people.
An Encounter, not an Attack
Saturday 15th August. Chantelle and her partner Mark had left their little boy Hamilton with his grandparents to head out to the beaches for a bit of surf and fresh air.
As Chantelle was on the waves, she felt something hit her underneath the board. She then felt something grab her leg. That 'something' readjusted itself three times as it clamped its jaws tightly on her leg while Chantelle held on to the nose of her board.
Chantelle described the pains as “like being bitten by a dog - it’s painful but it’s more this intense pressure and squeezing and crushing.”
Mark saw his partner fall off her board and started paddling over to her. He had a gut feeling something was wrong. Seeing the shark, he immediately started punching it as hard as he could. He rained punches down on its head and near its eye. The flesh of a shark is actually really sturdy. It was like hitting a professional boxing bag. The shark finally let go and slipped away.
Other surfers on the beach quickly came to the couple's aid, and Chantelle managed to get to a local hospital before being flown by helicopter to John Hunter Hospital. She was later moved to a hospital closer to Sydney.
Yes, it was harrowing. But being an environmental scientist, Chantelle has a much wider view and a different insight to what happened to her. She actually wants people to know why sharks are important and why our oceans need them.
Chantelle’s story is not one of injustice, anger or revenge in spite of her difficulties. Neither is it one about forgiveness. It’s about understanding, and doing the right thing.
And that is what we love about Chantelle’s story. She made the effort to get people to join in a crowdfunding campaign for the Australian Marine Conservation Society. She even had the grace and good humour to come up with a catchy hashtag #punchingforhealthyoceans.
Road to recovery
The shark severed the nerve in Chantelle's leg below the knee. Over the next two years, Chantelle continued to face physical challenges in the form of endless rehabs, chronic pain and partial leg paralysis. During this time, she has had two major operations. A seven-hour one to repair damage to muscles, tendons, bone and nerves and gashes. And a four-hour one to do