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Tiny Sharks with Big Bite Sink Ship Off Australian Coast

Cookiecutter sharks teamed up to take down a large boat.

By Cassidy Ward

The 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws reminds us of a time not long past, when sailors were regularly at the mercy of nature in the open ocean; when monsters could be found lurking in the deep. That’s something Quint (Robert Shaw) knows all too well, having survived the famed sinking of the USS Indianapolis during which sharks and the ocean claimed the lives of hundreds of stranded sailors. Wanting revenge for a decades-old slight, Quint is committed to stopping the killer shark threatening Amity Island or die trying.

As the story comes to a close, Quint, Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider), and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) are stranded at sea, tethered to a shark who just won’t die, with their radio destroyed. As the shark fights its looming demise, it drags the boat backward, flooding the deck and the engine compartment. As the boat sinks, it becomes clear that this fight is coming to a close one way or another. Recently, a trio of sailors off the coast of Australia found themselves in a similar situation when a group of tiny sharks attacked and sank their vessel.

Three Sailors Rescued from Sinking Ship Following Shark Attack

Earlier this month, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) responded to an emergency distress beacon roughly 500 miles off the coast of Australia. When they arrived, they found a sinking catamaran and three crewmembers in desperate need of assistance.

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The trio — made up of copilots Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin and additional crewmember Vincent Thomas Etienne — departed from the island of Vanautu on their way to Cairns, Australia on August 28, 2023. They made it a good chunk of the way through the 2,270 kilometer (1,400 mile) trip before the boat was attacked by cookiecutter sharks on Monday, September 4.

A preserved, fully-grown cookiecutter shark sits on display.

Cookiecutter sharks are small and spend most of their time in the middle deep of the ocean, swimming more than 3 kilometers beneath the surface. They reach less than 2 feet in length fully grown and they would almost be cute if not for their bulbous sucking lips surrounding razor sharp teeth. The sharks use those lips to latch onto prey and carve out circular craters of flesh. Despite being small, cookiecutter sharks are known to attack prey and objects much larger than they are. They’ve even been reported trying to bite nuclear submarines in the past.

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The first day of attacks hobbled the inflatable catamaran, but they were able to keep moving toward Cairns until the sharks attacked again the following day. This time they hit the opposite side and the boat began to sink. That’s when the crew set off their emergency beacon, watched the water rising over the back of their boat, and waited for rescue.

Fortunately, all three crewmembers were rescued without injury. The same can’t be said for the vessel itself, which was lost to the briny deep, courtesy of a handful of enterprising sharks. The AMSA took the opportunity to remind sailors of the importance of emergency distress beacons. Clearly, that’s a lesson Quint learned a little too late.

Catch Jaws and all of its sequels, available from Universal Pictures.