With Shark Week 2022 in full swing, deep sea predators have now gripped our Instagram timelines and Facebook feeds alike. Every year, the week-long marathon of shark-related programming on Discovery Channel reminds audiences around the world of the dangers lurking in the oceans which they oh-so-adore.
While some enthusiasts binge the programme like there’s no tomorrow—complete with shark-inspired decor and even cutlery—others retreat further into the safety cities have to offer from the predators. But this is not the case for some famous celebrities. From being stuck in the same cage with a great white to falling straight into the mouth of an apex predator, more than a handful of public figures have gotten up close and personal with sharks. Let’s recount eight of them today, shall we?
In 2006, Wolf of Wall Street star Leonardo DiCaprio was taking part in an underwater expedition in Cape Town, South Africa, when his wholly-rational fear of sharks was tested to the extreme after he came face-to-face with a great white.
“I had a huge fear of sharks, and when I did Blood Diamond in 2006 I actually got stuck in a cage with a great white, which was awesome,” he said during a 2014 interview with Ellen DeGeneres. “It was a gigantic great white… They actually said in 30 years this has never happened, but the tuna kind of got stuck on the top of the cage and the great white leapt out and tried to bite it and went into the cage with me. Half of its body was in and out, and I flattened down at the bottom, and it was this far away, and it chomped a few times but I survived it.”
Former TV lifeguard David Hasselhoff had a terrifying run-in with a tiger shark, one of the most dangerous predators living in the ocean, while filming David Hasselhoff’s Sharkwatch, a series of films for The Underwater Channel. Speaking to Britain’s Hello! Magazine, the Baywatch star recalled the incident by stating: “Suddenly, a tiger shark loomed towards me—a big girl, around 10 foot long. Although I’m 6 foot and no lightweight, I felt as if I appeared nothing more than a snack to her.”
“She opened her huge mouth. All I could see were rows of white razor-sharp teeth,” he continued. “I held out the bait, hoping that would keep her happy. I admitted to Mark [the show’s expert] that I’d been more scared than I’d ever been when the shark had opened her mouth.” Luckily, Hasselhoff’s trick with the bait worked and he was able to escape the tiger shark unscathed.
In 2016, John Krasinski opened up about a time he and his wife Emily Blunt had a close encounter with a shark while 100 feet deep in the ocean during their honeymoon. “Emily never wanted to learn scuba diving and I was like, ‘We’ll never get into trouble with sharks’,” Krasinski said on an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “All of a sudden one broke off from the circle and started swimming behind us. I saw it and Emily didn’t. He started to charge [at] Emily, so my decision was, ‘If I spook her and she moves a lot, he might bite her’.”
Krasinski then decided to roll with it and the shark eventually ended up swimming by the actress. But when the Devil Wears Prada star realised what had happened, “she kind of passed out underwater.”
“All of her air just went to the top,” Krasinski said. “It was pretty scary.”
While appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, American actress Hayden Panettiere called herself a shark magnet—claiming that anytime she’s in the ocean, be it paddleboarding or swimming, a shark appears out of thin air. The Scream 4 star then went on to describe a particularly scary experience while scuba diving.
“This safety diver got in to take pictures of my brother and my mom, and they had their fins on. And when the shark comes too close, you put your fins in their face, and I didn’t have my fins on. And, all of a sudden, they start going, ‘Shark, right behind you’,” Panettiere said.
“I swam for my life… They were yelling at us because the worst thing to do is to swim away from the shark and make all the splashing,” she continued. “I was like, ‘Guys, you yelled shark… How else do people react?’ I practically walked on water back to the boat.”
During Shark Week 2020, Will Smith faced one of his biggest fears by agreeing to swim with the ocean’s apex predators. The actor, 51 years old at the time, appeared on a Discovery Channel special called Will Smith: Off the Deep End and swam with a tiger shark—later revealing that he was so terrified of them that he didn’t learn to swim until he was in his 40s.
“I blame Steven Spielberg,” Smith was heard saying in the programme, referring to the director’s 1975 hit film, Jaws. “I was literally scared in the bathtub. I literally felt like a shark could come out of the spout.” But the Bad Boys star added that he’s become more determined to conquer his fears as he’s gotten older. “I am a firm believer that fear creates the greatest atrocities and evils that have ever been committed on this planet,” he said.
Smith then went on to admit how the experience changed him fundamentally. “There was Will Smith before the sharks and there is Will Smith after the sharks,” he concluded.
While on a break from filming Disney Channel’s Teen Beach Movie, Ross Lynch decided to have some fun and go snorkelling off the coast of Puerto Rico. The star had headed out into the water with his friends when a shark—that Lynch described as being “a good enough size to take a limb”—approached and gave them a real scare.
“We were snorkelling for three hours, so we were a bit far out and a shark started swimming up to us. And we all freaked out and… held on to each other real close,” Lynch explained. Luckily for the actor and his friends, the predator showed no interest in them and swam back into the deep.
Australian actor Ryan Kwanten is no stranger to blood and bites. In an episode of Esquire Network’s The Getaway, the star highlighted how he’s also a shark attack survivor. When he was just 12 years old, Kwanten had a terrifying experience with a shark off the coast of Sydney, Australia which made him give up a possible surfing career.
“I fell off the top of a wave and put my hand down, expecting to get the sandbank, and it went straight into the mouth of a shark… [but] it was a wobbegong shark; it’s got more gums than teeth… I didn’t get bitten, I got gummed [but] there are scars to prove it,” he admitted.
On 30 July 1945, the US Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank within minutes in shark-infested waters. Out of the 1,196 men on board, only 316 survived the gruesome four-day feeding frenzy. However, the Indianapolis had already completed its top secret mission: the delivery of key components of the ‘Little Boy’ atomic bomb that would be dropped a week later on Hiroshima, Japan. The ship’s crew was unaware of its cargo.
It is believed that as many as 150 men were eaten by the predators during the wait for rescue, making it the worst recorded shark attack in history.
After completing its mission, the Indianapolis was sailing for the island of Leyte in the Philippines, where just after midnight it was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine and quickly began to sink. The torpedoes triggered a chain of explosions that rolled the ship over and caused it to plunge in just 12 minutes.
A 19-year-old seaman, Loel Dean Cox, was on duty on the bridge. Aged 87, he spoke to the BBC and recalled the moment when the torpedo hit. “Whoom. Up in the air I went. There was water, debris, fire, everything just coming up and we were 81feet (25 metres) from the water line. It was a tremendous explosion. Then, about the time I got to my knees, another one hit. Whoom.”
“Can you imagine a ship 610 feet long—that’s two football fields in length—sinking in 12 minutes? It just rolled over and went under,” Cox added.
Around 900 of the crew members were initially still alive when the cruiser first went into the water. The survivors were left with only a few life rafts and forced to face the prospect of dying out in the middle of the ocean with nobody there to save them.
Drawn by the sound of the explosions and the thrashing of hundreds of people in the water, that’s when the sharks swarmed. While it should be noted that most sharks don’t actually attack humans, and when they do, it’s mostly due to curiosity, the Indianapolis’ survivors weren’t as lucky.
The Oceanic Whitetip is considered to be one of the most aggressive sharks in the world, and a large group of them was headed right for the survivors. Though slow-moving, it is opportunistic and combative, and is reputed to be dangerous to shipwreck survivors.
On the first night, they largely focused on the floating bodies of dead men, but as more blood spilt in the water, it drew in even more sharks who were enticed by the moving bodies and kicking legs of hundreds of men trying to stay afloat.
“We were losing three or four [men] each night and day,” Cox revealed. “You were constantly in fear because you’d see them all the time. Every few minutes you’d see their fins—a dozen to two dozen fins in the water. They would come up and bump you. I was bumped a few times—you never know when they are going to attack you.”
For four days those men had to stay in the water as the sharks fed first on the dead and then on the living, killing up to 150 of the shipwrecked survivors. Even those who weren’t killed directly by the sharks but from exposure, dehydration or salt poisoning (some tried to drink seawater), still ended up as fish food regardless.
It wasn’t until 11:00 am on the fourth day that they were finally rescued by a US Navy plane that spotted the survivors and radioed for help. An hours-long rescue operation was launched and the last of the survivors was found just after midnight.
This spine-chilling tale might sound familiar to those of you who have seen the film Jaws, as in one scene veteran shark hunter Quint (played by Robert Shaw) tells the whole story. Unlike Quint’s recount in the movie, however, many taken by the sharks could have been saved as the ship had actually sent out a distress signal.
Three stations received it but none responded as one commander was drunk, another had been ordered not to be disturbed and a third thought it was a trap set by the Japanese to lure the Americans out.
Another film on the ship’s sinking and subsequent shark attack is 2016’s USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage, with Nicholas Cage starring as ship captain Charles McVay, who was wrongly blamed for the sinking and only exonerated in 2000. Sadly, McVay died by suicide in 1968. Many of his surviving crewmen believed the military had made him a scapegoat.
Recent studies show steeply declining populations of Oceanic Whitetips because its large fins are highly valued as the chief ingredient of shark fin soup, and as with other shark species, it faces mounting fishing pressure throughout its range.