In Melissa Brunning’s Facebook stream of vacation photos, her memories of gorgeous cliffside vistas and Australian waters mesh seamlessly with cellphone footage of a shark nearly biting her finger off.
Day 1 (setting sail on a friend’s yacht to explore her country’s remote northwest coast): “this is the start of an amazing journey to come .”
Day 3-ish: (standing on a paradisiacal beach): “Sometimes you just have to let go and trust the universe will steer you in the right direction #wildandfree #nofilter”
Also Day 3: (screaming, thrashing)
After the surgery: “thank you for all the beautiful messages asking if I’m ok and if my finger is ok #dontfeedsharks”
Brunning’s summer vacation ended weeks ago, but she’s been reliving it on Facebook since — variously tagging her favorite waterfall photos and updating friends on her media appearances to answer questions about the shark incident and its gruesome aftermath. (Reporters never seem to ask about the waterfalls, but that’s okay.)
Showing her gauze-wrapped finger to the camera like some interesting seashell she’d brought home, the 34-year-old draftsman recounted the brief unpleasantness in her otherwise idyllic tour of Dugong Bay.
Her friends had gathered at the back of the boat in late May, tossing bits of fish to a group of tawny nurse sharks in the water, Brunning told the West Australian newspaper. She was the last to take her turn.
“Come on, turn around, fella,” a man beside her told an approximately six-foot shark as Brunning bent over the water toward it — just before the screaming.
Tawnies are among the friendlier species of sharks, as sharks go, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. But they are still sharks, with shark jaws and shark teeth, the museum warns.
Unlike her friends, Brunning had chosen the hand-to-mouth feeding method, which is mentioned nowhere in any shark safety advisory guidelines we can find.
It felt like her finger had been sucked into a vacuum cleaner full of razor teeth, she told the West Australian. “It felt like it was shredding off the bone,” she told News 7, smiling as if in amusement at the memory.
“I couldn’t even look at the finger,” she said. “I thought it was gone.”
As seen in a cellphone video that made its way from Brunning’s vacation album into international news, she tried to stand up as she screamed, and either fell or was pulled into the water while the shark did to her finger what it does to fish.
A second later, it was over. The shark released her finger, and a friend helped her out of the water. And despite Brunning’s fears, she could see that her finger was still attached.
So she continued with her vacation, the injured digit now featuring in her beach selfies.
Brunning figured it would heal on its own, she told News 7. She did not realize until returning to Perth and seeing a doctor that she had a deep infection, torn muscle and broken bone.
So then there was surgery and the news write-ups — some of which Brunning found delightful, and some of which she found a bit too dramatic. (“Shark drags woman into crocodile-infested waters” from Fox News. Really?)
Brunning never tried to defend her misadventure. On the contrary, she became somewhat concerned that commentators were being too hard on the shark.
“This is not a shark attack,” she told the West Australian. “This is just a blonde doing a stupid thing.”
And when that particular quote ended up plastered across a full-color newspaper photo of Brunning smiling cheerfully and holding up her purple-wrapped finger, she could only .
It was all part of the vacation experience, after all.
“It was an unforgettable trip,” she told the West Australian. “I’ve got a cool story, a cool injury, and I’ll have a cool little scar.”