Australian National University study finds simple shark bite first aid tip that could save lives

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Sarah IsonThe West Australian
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A simple first aid technique could save the lives of many shark attack victims.
Camera IconA simple first aid technique could save the lives of many shark attack victims. Credit: Ramon Carretero/stock.adobe.com

A simple new first-aid technique could help avoid deaths from shark attacks, after eight people were killed in Australia in 2020 alone.

Of those, two took place in Esperance and one off the coast of Broome.

Gary Johnson, 57, was attacked by a shark while diving off West Beach in Esperance on January 5 last year.

Surfer Andrew Sharpe, 52, was killed off the Esperance coast in October of the same year and spearfisherman Charlie Cernobori, 58, was attacked at Cable Beach while bodyboarding 30 metres offshore in November.

A study by the Australian National University found the best way to prevent death after a bite was for people to use their own bodyweight to stop the bleeding,

Lead author, emergency physician and Associate Dean of the ANU Medical School Dr Nicholas Taylor surfs in his free time, and decided to conduct a study on the best way to prevent fatalities from shark attacks.

“In shark attacks, most people don't actually get bitten twice and they can make it back to the shore," Dr Taylor said.

“I knew from my background in emergency medicine if people have massive bleeding from their leg, you can push very hard on the femoral artery and you can pretty much cut the entire blood flow of the leg that way.

“If someone has been bitten on their leg, you only need to find the middle point between the hip and the genitals, make a fist and push as hard as you can.”

Dr Taylor suggested wetsuits mark the location of the femoral artery with an “X” in case the wearer is attacked by a shark.

The study, published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, compared artery blood flow of 34 healthy people when the midpoint was pushed by bodyweight compared to an improvised tourniquet made with a surfboard leg rope.

Family members of Esperance shark attack victim Gary Johnson, leave the Taylor Street Jetty in Esperance as police continue the search for his body.
Camera IconFamily members of Esperance shark attack victim Gary Johnson, leave the Taylor Street Jetty in Esperance as police continue the search for his body. Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

The study showed this easily taught first-aid technique stopped 100 per cent of blood flow in 75 per cent of participants. Blood flow was stopped on average by almost 90 per cent by making a fist and pushing hard on the midpoint, compared to using a leg rope tourniquet which only reduced blood flow by 43.8 per cent.

“Most people could completely stop all blood flow. This new method saves time and works better than using a leg rope or looking for something else to use as a tourniquet," Dr Taylor said.

Dr Taylor said the method could be used at beaches around the world.

“It is easy to do and easy to remember — push hard between the hip and the bits and you could save a life,” he said.

“I want posters at beaches. I want to get it out in the surf community. I want people to know that if someone gets bitten you can pull out the patient, push as hard as you can in this midpoint spot and it can stop almost all of the blood flow.”

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