Remembering the Deadliest Shark Attack Ever, When 150 Sailors from USS Indianapolis Were Eaten Alive

by John Jamison

August 19th marked the fourth anniversary of the USS Indianapolis wreckage discovery on the ocean floor between Guam and the Leyte Gulf. The Portland-class heavy cruiser was the victim of a Japanese submarine. But the crew became victims of the worst shark attack ever recorded.

300 sailors went down with the sinking ship. That left 900 stranded, floating in the pitch-black waters of the North Pacific. They quickly realized that the fate of their fallen comrades might have been more enviable than what awaited them.

And what awaited the stranded sailors was a hundreds-strong shiver of oceanic whitetip and tiger sharks. They came to investigate the carnage following the devastating torpedo attack. And it didn’t take long for them to start doing what they do best—eat.

Edgar Harrell, the last surviving Marine from the USS Indianapolis who died at 96 years old in May, was a 20-year old man when he found himself in the midst of the feeding frenzy. He talked to The Sun about the horrifying ordeal in 2019.

“You would hear a blood-curdling scream and look and see someone going under. When you get some 900 boys out there decaying in misery, sharks are gonna swim through there and they’re gonna attack what’s in their road.”If I’m flopping around in their road, they’re going to take me under, and they only have to hit you once. All we heard was men being eaten alive. Every day, every night,” Harrell said.

With each subsequent attack, the sharks became even more frenzied by the blood. The sailors did their best to organize and protect each other by grouping up. But with little between them and the countless sharks, there wasn’t much to be done.

If the Sharks Didn’t Get The Sailors of the USS Indianapolis, Something Else Would

The fact more than 300 sailors ended up surviving the USS Indianapolis ordeal is borderline miraculous. 150 of the roughly 900 in the water are presumed to have been eaten by sharks. But the majority of the deaths came from a lack of food and water. The men didn’t exactly have time to prepare for a week-long float across the open ocean.

As a result, the lack of fresh drinking water combined with the glaring sun during the days meant dehydration came quickly. If it wasn’t for a few brief moments of light rain over the four days and five nights the crew spent at sea, it’s possible hundreds more would have succumbed.

Many of the dehydrated men were delirious from the sun and the sounds of men being eaten alive around them. It drove them to make the fateful decision of gulping down seawater.

“You could nearly time it after they’d drunk that salt water — within the hour their mind was completely gone, hallucinating,” Harrell continued in the interview.

Since Harrell’s passing in May, it is believed that there are only five remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis.