Fish Tale? Hawaiian Man Rips Out Shark's Eye to Survive Attack

A tiger shark attacked a man in Hawaii, but the man claims to have ripped out the shark's eye. Albert Kok via Wikimedia Commons CC3.0

A tiger shark attacked a man named Tony Lee who was swimming off Hawaii's Lanikai beach, in southeastern Oahu, last weekend. The creature got both of Lee's legs in its mouth, and pulled him under the water repeatedly.

In an interview with KITV, a Hawaiian ABC affiliate, Lee said that he kept punching the shark, but it wouldn't let go. In desperation, he went a step further.

"I had goggles on, so I could see everything really clearly, and I kept thinking that if I just punched him enough he would let me go," Lee said. "He pulled me down one last time, so I just reached out and put my finger in his eye and I just pulled out his eyeball. And so then he let go.… I got to the surface, I was holding his eyeball, and then, you know, let it go, treading water."

Lee was rescued by a father and son who were kayaking in the area and heard his screams. They got Lee onto a kayak and rushed to shore. Doctors told KITV that a few more minutes in the water and he would've died.

"They really, they really saved my life," Lee said.

Lee lost a leg to the attack, and he had surgery to save the other one October 23.

A shark expert said Lee reacted exactly as one is supposed to in the event of an attack. "I advise to be as aggressively defensive as you are able" if attacked, George Burgess told National Geographic. He said "playing dead" does not work: "Pound the shark in any way possible. Try to claw at the eyes and gill openings, two very sensitive areas."

Many species of shark have tough coverings they can retract over their eyes, called nictitating membranes, which normally protect their peepers from prey when they are feeding.

Several after Lee's incident on October 17, an eel bit and injured the foot of another Hawaiian off of Honolulu's Waikiki beach, in what was originally reported as a shark attack.

Shark researcher Erich Ritter writes that "legends suggest that many kings living in the historical Hawaiian environment acquired their premonition of future events by consuming the eyes" of great whites and tiger sharks. "It is said that even the mother of the most famous king of Hawaii, King Kamehameha (born around 1753 and having died on May 8, 1819) asked for [shark] eyes during her pregnancy because they supposedly would enhance the leadership qualities of the future king she was carrying."