Scuba Diver Survives Croc Attack: 'I Was Being Dragged Backwards'

The one that bit me was a little over three metres long. 

Marine Biologist Melissa Marquez was diving at night in Cuba with a group of other professionals when she was set upon by a crocodile.  

My communications mask was acting up while we were diving so I couldn't really hear anyone and nobody could hear me so we were relying on hand signals. My dive buddy signalled, 'Hey dive is over. We're going up'.

I gave him the 'okay' signal and he crossed in front of me with his fins and I didn't want to get hit in the face, so I waited a few extra seconds while he went up.

Two, three seconds later I felt this really hard pressure on my leg and suddenly I was being dragged backwards and I very quickly realised that it was a crocodile.

Melissa dives with predators regularly. Image: Cuba's Secret Shark Lair.

Sharks don't bite like that and it's one of those things where you put two and two together. You're swimming with a crocodile, the crocodile disappears and then you feel something biting in the way a shark wouldn't, it's probably a crocodile.

In that moment when I realised what was going on it was literally just a subconscious voice in my head that said 'do not move' and I just ended up following that.

So I was trying to keep my leg still while it was dragging me and with my upper body I was looking around with my hands trying to see if I could find a rock or something to either hold on to and anchor myself to or worst comes to worst hit the animal with it so I could try and pry my leg out.

And another reason why I kept my leg so still was that I was hoping it would think I am an inanimate object, because I had neoprene on which has a really weird texture.

I was hoping with its receptors in its mouth, because their mouths are very sensitive to textures, I was hoping it would be like 'oh that's a weird texture, I don't really taste any blood and it's staying still, it's probably not food' and then it would release me from its mouth which is exactly what ended up happening.

Melissa was attacked by a crocodile. Image: Cuba's Secret Shark Lair.

In a lot of these cases they do a death roll that they are known for.

People often ask 'did you fight it off?' but it just opened its mouth and let me go and as soon as I realised I wasn't in it's mouth any more I filled up my vest, because as scuba divers we have vests that can fill up with air to make us buoyant, so I filled it up with air and just shot straight to the surface.

At that point I couldn't see my leg. I didn't even know if I had a leg anymore.

At that point I met the chaos that was above the water because everyone was trying to figure out where I was. My dive buddy started pulling me towards the boat that that is when I am assuming he told other people.

Melissa had deep bite wounds. Image: Cuba's Secret Shark Lair.

I remember looking up at the stars because we were in the middle of nowhere  and I was looking up and then I saw the dive medics's face, Mike and he said ' you're okay, you're okay, you're okay' and that's when I started to snap out of the shock because he was pulling me out of the water.

People were pulling my tank off and everything off me, people were rushing to get the medical bag, people were rushing to get the oxygen. At this point we were trying to position the light so we could see my leg, so it was utter chaos.

READ MORE: Largest Crocodile Of The Year Caught In Northern Territory

READ MORE: Ranger Taken By Crocodile In Arnhem Land Attack

I had pretty deep puncture wounds, it was very clean, and because we were so far away from proper medical attention we cleaned it out in the wonderful way with bleach and water and a high-pressure hose. That honestly hurt more than the bite itself.

It was a pretty rough night. I had a fever, we were talking medi-vac options, I was dehydrated and I did need an IV later on. In the next few days I was cleared, I was given the all clear to continue diving which I did. I left a day earlier than everybody else. We made sure I got checked out at the hospital and was given the all clear to fly back home to Australia.

Melissa had deep bite wounds. Image: Cuba's Secret Shark Lair.

To be honest there are two take aways. One of them is don't take life for granted. There's always a risk when you work with wild predators, there is always a risk to your life and we all accept it.

Afterwards with the recovery I couldn't really stand up for too long or my leg would hurt, I couldn't run, if someone would so much as brush up against the wounds I would yelp out in pain. I thought, 'this sucks right now that it hurts, but I could not have a leg'.

It gives me a really interesting platform to talk to people about when the accidents happen for sharks and for crocs as well.

Melissa on board the boat before her dive. Image: Cuba's Secret Shark Lair.

To talk about what I did because it definitely not only saved my leg, but also my life, and talking about how it is not the animal's fault.

It wasn't the crocodiles's fault not at all whatsoever and it shouldn't be demonised for it.

I don't blame the crocodile at all.

Melissa Marquez, 25, is a marine biologist who studies chondrichthyans (the class to which sharks, skates, rays, chimaeras, and cartilaginous fish belong) through her foundation The Fins United Initiative. She has also worked on a documentary for this year's Shark Week called Cuba's Secret Shark Lair. She currently lives in Australia. 

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au