A swimmer who was attacked by a shark Wednesday morning off a Pacific Grove beach about one mile west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium says he was bitten so badly he was concerned he might bleed to death, and owes his life to good Samaritans who rushed to his rescue.
“The shark bite was unlucky. But after that, I have just had so much good luck,” Steve Bruemmer, 62, said in a statement released Thursday night to KION and KSBW, local TV stations based in Salinas.
Bruemmer, a Monterey resident, remains hospitalized at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. He retired last year as an IT specialist and computer science instructor at Monterey Peninsula College, and regularly swims off the Pacific Grove shoreline with the Kelp Krawlers, an open water ocean swimming club. But on Wednesday, he was swimming alone.
“The day was so calm and warm, and the beach was crowded,” he said in the statement. “There were no waves, and there was no chop. So people could hear me yelling “Help!” from a great distance, including from the Rec Trail, where someone called 911.”
Bruemmer was bitten multiple times at about 10:35 a.m., witnesses said, causing severe injuries to his legs and torso.
Scientists at California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s forensic lab in Sacramento confirmed late Thursday that the shark that attacked Bruemmer while he was swimming off Lovers Point was a great white.
DNA samples from Bruemmer’s wetsuit were used to identify the species of shark. Researchers at the lab are trying now to identify the size of the shark based on the size and orientation of the bite marks on his wetsuit, said Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the department.
Moments after Bruemmer was attacked, severely bleeding and yelling for help, several people nearby rushed to his rescue, including Aimee Johns, a nurse from Folsom, and her husband, Paul Bandy, an off-duty Sacramento police officer, who were paddle boarding in the area as part of a trip to celebrate their wedding anniversary. A nearby surfer, Heath Braddock, also came to help.
“On the beach, a surfer was teaching a safety class. He had the presence of mind to get in the water on his board and bring an extra board. Those three (Braddock, Johns and Bandy) got me onto the extra board, and they had me hold the surfer’s ankle while he paddled like crazy to get me to the beach. They, along with several bystanders, including a doctor and a nurse who were on the beach for the day, helped put tourniquets on me and get me to the ambulance.”
Beaches around Lovers Point remain closed until Saturday.
While he was lying in the ambulance, Bruemmer tried to ascertain his chances of surviving.
“I thought, ‘my lungs are good. I can breathe,” Bruemmer said. “So I didn’t know if I was going to bleed to death, but my lungs were good. And it seemed really lucky that the shark got me in a spot that seemed survivable. I was in the ambulance, thinking I don’t know if I was going to survive, but at least I could breathe. Then I don’t remember anything for a while.
“The EMT told me, ‘We’re about two minutes out from Natividad Medical Center. When you get there, there will be like 15 people to meet you there. They will be poking and prodding and asking questions.’”
Shark attacks are rare. Since 1950, when modern records began, 15 people have died in California from shark attacks, most of them by great whites, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Millions of people go into the water every year to surf, swim, paddle board, spear fish and snorkel, making the odds of an attack extremely low, experts say.
In May 2020, surfer Ben Kelly, 26, of Santa Cruz, was killed in a shark attack about 100 yards off Manresa State Beach in Aptos. Kelly bled to death after a great white shark bit him behind his right knee, striking an artery. An investigation by state wildlife biologists found the shark was at least 10 feet long.
A study published last year concluded that there is an increased number of great white sharks in Monterey Bay.
Juvenile great white sharks — younger animals that are between 5 and 9 feet long — that traditionally concentrated in warm waters off northern Mexico and Southern California have moved north since 2014 as water temperatures have warmed, the study found.
The young sharks stay close to shore, feeding on squid and other animals. When they grow larger, they move to deeper, colder waters. Although juvenile great whites sometimes can be seen in aerial photographs near beaches and even near people, they almost never bite humans.
“These are super-rare events, especially in that neck of the woods,” said Chris Lowe, a marine biologist with Cal State Long Beach. “Most of the adults are in the middle of the Pacific. We don’t know details about how big this shark was, but based on the time of the year it could be a big juvenile.”
Natividad Medical Center has a trauma center, which treated Bruemmer with two hours of surgery.
“They said I lost a tremendous amount of blood,” he said. “Without all those things going right — If it had been a choppy day, then they wouldn’t have heard me on the Monterey Rec Trail. So yeah, I’m lucky. Without all those things going right, I could have bled out.”
One of the surgeons, Dr. Nicholas Rottler, told KSBW and KION that the shark did not sever any major arteries, and that he and another surgeon, Dr. Kuong Ngann, mostly treated major lacerations. Rottler noted that Bruemmer was left with an eye-opening reminder of the harrowing encounter: A U-shaped bite mark around his pelvis.
He said that the shark bite came within a millimeter of hitting a major artery, which could have been fatal. Bruemmer is in stable condition and is talking. He has “hundreds of stitches” and likely faces months of physical therapy, Rottler told KSBW.
“It could have been much, much worse,” Rottler said.