Surfer Todd Endris needed a miracle. The shark — a monster great white that came out of nowhere — had hit him three times, peeling the skin off his back and mauling his right leg to the bone.
That’s when a pod of bottlenose dolphins intervened, forming a protective ring around Endris, allowing him to get to shore, where quick first aid provided by a friend saved his life.
“Truly a miracle,” Endris told TODAY’s Natalie Morales on Thursday.
The attack occurred on Tuesday, Aug. 28, just before 11 a.m. at Marina State Park off Monterey, Calif., where the 24-year-old owner of Monterey Aquarium Services had gone with friends for a day of the sport they love. Nearly four months later, Endris, who is still undergoing physical therapy to repair muscle damage suffered during the attack, is back in the water and on his board in the same spot where he almost lost his life.
“[It] came out of nowhere. There’s no warning at all.
The shark, estimated at 12 to 15 feet long, hit him first as Endris was sitting on his surfboard, but couldn’t get its monster jaws around both surfer and surfboard. “The second time, he came down and clamped on my torso — sandwiched my board and my torso in his mouth,” Endris said.
That attack shredded his back, literally peeling the skin back, he said, “like a banana peel.” But because Endris’ stomach was pressed to the surfboard, his intestines and internal organs were protected.
The third time, the shark tried to swallow Endris’ right leg, and he said that was actually a good thing, because the shark’s grip anchored him while he kicked the beast in the head and snout with his left leg until it let go.
The dolphins, which had been cavorting in the surf all along, showed up then. They circled him, keeping the shark at bay, and enabled Endris to get back on his board and catch a wave to the shore.
Our finned friends
No one knows why dolphins protect humans, but stories of the marine mammals rescuing humans go back to ancient Greece, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
A year ago in New Zealand, the group reports, four lifeguards were saved from sharks in the same way Endris was — by dolphins forming a protective ring.
Though horribly wounded, Endris said he didn’t think he was going to die. “Actually, it never crossed my mind,” he told Morales.
It did, though, cross the minds of others on the beach, including some lifeguards who told his friend, Brian Simpson, that Endris wasn’t going to make it.
- The Daily Treat: What Would You Call Mariah Carey's Puppies?
- Val Chmerkovskiy Took Stitches 'Like a Champ,' Says His Plastic Surgeon
- Amy Poehler, Michelle Obama, Stephen Colbert & More Commencement Speeches
- Robert Pattinson in 'Really Good Mood' After Kristen Stewart Split
- Is Justin Timberlake the Best Dressed Man at Cannes?
Simpson is an X-ray technician in a hospital trauma center, and he’d seen badly injured people before. He had seen Endris coming in and knew he was hurt.
“I was expecting him to have leg injuries,” he told Morales. “It was a lot worse than I was expecting.”
Blood was pumping out of the leg, which had been bitten to the bone, and Endris, who lost half his blood, was ashen white. To stop the blood loss, Simpson used his surf leash as a tourniquet, which probably saved his life.
“Thanks to this guy,” Endris said, referring to Simpson, who sat next to him in the TODAY studio, “once I got to the beach, he was calming me down and keeping me from losing more blood by telling me to slow my breathing and really just be calm. They wouldn’t let me look at my wounds at all, which really helped.
A medivac helicopter took him to a hospital, where a surgeon had to first figure out what went where before putting him back together.
“It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” Endris said.
Six weeks later, he was well enough to go surfing again, and the place he went was back to Marina State Park. It wasn’t easy to go back in the water.
“You really have to face your fears,” he told Morales. “I’m a surfer at heart, and that’s not something I can give up real easily. It was hard. But it was something you have to do.”
The shark went on its way, protected inside the waters of the park, which is a marine wildlife refuge. Endris wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I wouldn’t want to go after the shark anyway,” he said. “We’re in his realm, not the other way around.”
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints