REAL LIFE

I fought a shark – and WON!

Juanita went to catch some dinner but got a nasty surprise

Juanita Davey has been a fisherwoman in the Northern Territory for 35 years.

But one day while out catching some mackerel for dinner, she faced a a run-in with an unwanted visitor. 

In her own words, Juanita tells that’s life! of her epic battle.

Tugging hard on the motor, the little boat roared to life.

‘See you later,’ I shouted to my husband, Bruce, 62, as I set off from the main boat that we called home.

It was a beautiful morning in February 2019, and I wanted to catch some mackerel for dinner.

I’d been a professional fisherwoman for the last 35 years and I knew the water like the back of my hand.

I headed for an area we’d nicknamed Cape Carnage.

It was usually teeming with fish.

But with the fish came sharks – and lots of them.

I sipped my coffee as I watched the sun come up, and then I pulled on not one, but two pairs of gloves.

We fished using the traditional method of handlining, rather than rods, so the gloves were key to keeping my hands safe.

Once I’d baited the line, I threw it into the water and waited for a bite. Seconds later, I spotted movement and sprung into action.

I grabbed the cord with one hand, wrapped it around my palm and pulled hard.

Bracing my feet, I repeated the same with my other hand, reeling in the giant fish towards the boat.

A pig-eye shark caught got up in Juanita's line. Credit: Getty
(A pig-eye shark caught got up in Juanita’s line. Credit: Getty)

It was adrenaline-filled work and the next half an hour passed quickly as I reeled in more mackerel. But then, as I wrapped the cord around my right hand, I was suddenly tugged forwards.

A searing pain shot through my hand as the line cut through my gloves and into my flesh.

With it wrapped around my fingers just below the knuckles, I felt a sickening crunch as the line pulled tighter and tighter.

Looking into the water, I realised a pigeye shark was tangled up in the trace wire.

Now the three-metre beast was pulling me over the edge of the boat!

I’m going to end up in the water, I panicked.

If that happened, there was no way I’d make it out alive.

Using all my strength, I braced myself against the boat as the shark thrashed around, trying to get free.

Then, finally, the line went slack and slipped off my hand.

I grabbed the radio with my good hand and put a call out to my family.

‘I’ve hurt my hand really badly at Cape Carnage,’ I said. ‘I need help.’

Thankfully, my son Tiger was out fishing nearby with his wife Prue, and he set off to reach me.

Juanita would've faced a 14-hour journey without CareFlight. Credit: CareFlight
(Juanita would’ve faced a 14-hour journey without CareFlight. Credit: CareFlight)

All I could do was wait.

I glimpsed down at my right hand and saw a tangled mess of blood, skin and bone.

Both pairs of gloves had been ripped apart where the line had sliced through my flesh.

As horrifying as it was, I knew it could have been worse.

I could’ve become the shark’s dinner!

Eventually, Tiger and Prue arrived and I climbed into their boat.

We sped towards home and once on the main boat, Prue used her first-aid skills to treat my hand. But the blood loss had taken its toll and I started
to feel woozy.

‘I’m going to have a sit down,’ I said, and then everything went black.

When I came around, Prue had patched me up as best she could, but my hand was in agony.

She’d cut off my gloves, pulled the flap of flesh back in place, cleaned the wound and strapped it with a bandage.

Bruce had already called Triple-0, where he’d been put through to CareFlight, the rapid response helicopter charity. Without them, I faced a 14-hour journey to get to the nearest hospital.

Juanita's finger and thumb were crushed by the fishing line. Credit: Supplied
(Juanita’s finger and thumb were crushed by the fishing line. Credit: Supplied)

Thankfully, they located a beach they could land on not far from our boat.

Once the chopper arrived, we set off for Royal Darwin Hospital – 700km away.

I was given antibiotics and then, at the hospital, I was rushed in for scans.

My hand had been de-gloved, taking off a third of the skin and crushing the bones in my thumb and fourth finger.

That night, I was taken into theatre for the surgeon to assess the damage.

Thankfully, he discovered the most vital joints and tendons were repairable.

‘You’re incredibly lucky,’ I was told afterwards.

Bruce (left) and Juanita met with CareFlight nurse Paul to say thank you. Credit: CareFlight
Bruce (left) and Juanita met with CareFlight nurse Paul to say thank you. Credit: CareFlight

My hand was strapped into a splint and, eight days later, I went back into surgery to have the bones pinned.

Afterwards, I stayed at my daughter Johnna’s house nearby to recover and have regular check-ups.

Gradually, I began to regain the movement in my fingers and after six weeks,
I returned home.

Now, I’ve made a good recovery and I’ve even returned to fish at Cape Carnage.

I’m so grateful to CareFlight and their medics for helping me when I needed it most.

To say thank you, we donated a $15,000 cruise on our boat to the CareFlight Christmas raffle to help fund their life-saving work.

CareFlight is always looking for sponsors and donations for their year-round fundraising efforts.

I know how lucky I’ve been to keep my hand and continue doing what I love.

Not many people can say they’ve played tug-of-war with a shark and won!

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