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I was almost bitten in two by a great white.. but that day began my lifelong love for sharks; ATTACK SURVIVOR R WHO FILMED FOOTAGE FOR JAWS.

Byline: WARREN MANGER

It was the horror film that left audiences worldwide too terrified to go back in the water. But when shark expert Rodney Fox helped with the filming of Jaws, he refused to be scared off - despite almost being eaten alive by a real great white years earlier.

The bite broke all his ribs and punctured his lung, but he managed to fight his way free from the beast's deadly teeth and swim to safety. It is one of the most severe shark attacks ever survived.

One year later Rodney dived back into the water to compete in a spear-fishing contest.

He even built the first shark cage so he could swim with great whites and has since devoted his life to saving them.

Rodney, 75, says: "It is a miracle I am still alive today. The doctors said if I reached the hospital a couple of minutes later I wouldn't have survived."

The shark struck in 1963 when Rodney, a newlywed insurance salesman, was taking part in a spear-fishing contest off the coast of Adelaide, South Australia.

Needing one more fish to win, the 22-yearold started to dive deeper and further out into the ocean than his rivals.

He recalls: "I found what I was looking for and was squeezing the trigger when a huge thump hit me in the chest, knocking the spear gun out of my hand and the mask off my face.

"I was hurled through the water at great speed. My first thought was it must be a submarine. Then I realised it was a giant shark."

Worse, the terrifying creature had Rodney clamped in its jaws.

He says: "At that point instinct took over and fear of dying overcame the fear of pain. I gouged its eyes and it seemed to let go.

"Then I pushed it away with my right hand, but my arm disappeared into its mouth, cutting four out of the five tendons in my hand on its sharp white teeth.

"I ripped my hand out before it could close its mouth, then I grabbed the shark in a bear hug around its chest so it couldn't bite me."

Realising he was still holding his breath 15 metres underwater, Rodney let go and swam to the surface.

But the shark followed him. "I took a big breath then looked down through the water," he says.

"It was red with my blood and I could see the shark coming straight up towards me. But a miracle happened.

"The shark turned and grabbed a buoy I was attached to. Then it dived, pulling me underwater. I thought, 'that's it. I'm gone this time'. I couldn't find the quick release for the buoy. But I was saved by another miracle - the line snapped and I was free.

"Somehow I managed to get back to the surface and a boat had come over to see what the bright red water was. They raced me to shore."

The bite broke all of Rodney s ribs, punctured his lung, and left many of his organs exposed.

It also shredded his right arm and a piece of shark tooth is still embedded in his wrist.

Rodney needed 462 stitches, 90 in his arm alone. But he made such an incredible recovery he was well enough to go back into the water within a year.

He says: "The first dive after the attack, I imagined sharks coming at me from every direction. The sun was glinting on the water, but instead of seeing beautiful diamond shapes, every flash of light looked like nasty sharks. But I managed to shake my head and get over that."

Rodney enjoyed one more season of competitive spear-fishing before quitting, convinced that fish blood in the water attracted sharks and put contestants at risk.

But he kept swimming in the sea and became an abalone sea snail diver for the next 16 years. "People said I should give it up and play golf instead," he says with a chuckle.

"That's why I invented the shark cage. I wanted to go out and see these huge sharks and find out if it really was safe for me to go back in the water. There were all these stories about man-eaters. But I saw these sharks were shy and careful, they were far more interested in the fish bait we had than the humans in the cages."

Rodney also began filming the sharks and his footage has been used in 80 films.

Most are documentaries to educate and reassure people about sharks. But his most famous project did the opposite.

Steven Spielberg sent a film crew to Australia in 1974 and asked Rodney for help. The director wanted footage of real great whites and film of a shark attacking a cage for the nail-biting finale of his new movie Jaws. To make the real sharks look even bigger Spielberg asked them to film a great white attacking a miniature cage with a small actor inside. But the actor refused to get in after one shark bit the ship's propeller.

There was also a clear difference between a real shark and Hollywood's version.

Rodney says: "They didn't use much of our footage because the fluid movements of the real sharks made their mechanical monster look so unreal. That's why they brought in the dum-dum dum-dum music. The sharks wouldn't attack the cage but one got caught in the cables and crashed around until it tore the winch out of the boat.

"It was a good job the little guy was too scared to get in as it crashed to the bottom.

"Spielberg changed the script so the scientist survived, just so he could include that footage. He said if it wasn't for our footage, he wouldn't be as famous as he is today."

Jaws won three Oscars and was the highest grossing film ever until Star Wars came out.

But it also left millions scared to set foot in the sea and led to a shark cull. Rodney says: "For the first 10 years I regretted being part of that film. But in the last 10 years a number of marine biologists and scientists have told me the film inspired them to study sharks and fish. That made me feel better."

More than 50 years after being bitten by a great white, Rodney and his son Andrew are two of the world's leading experts and have founded the Fox Shark Research Foundation.

The pair carry out extensive research and have found the same sharks arrive at Australia's Neptune Islands to hunt seal pups at the same time every year and seem to tolerate each other's presence.

Rodney adds: "Sharks have become our passion, but it's hard to get our message across that they are wonderful creatures.

"We want to teach people to live with sharks, not fear them. But I wouldn't like to be swimming in the water with them.. they eat things the same size as us."

Great White Bite is on the Nat Geo Wild channel on Tuesday, May 24, at 8pm.

warren.manger@mirror.co.uk

462 The number of stitches Rodney needed after terrifying attack 80 The number of films that have used his footage of sharks

CAPTION(S):

RESEARCH Rodney and son Andrew ready for a dive. Right, the famous cage attack scene from Jaws

HORROR Rodney Fox with photos of his injuries before and after hospital treatment. Left, his scars soon after the attack

FILMING Mechanical shark in hit movie Jaws

EXPERT Shark conservationist Rodney Fox
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 18, 2016
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