IS IT SAFE TO GO IN THE OCEAN?

I think so. Do you agree? What is it about the ocean and the sea that scare people? I think I know the most popular reason- SHARKS!

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Photo taken by Jason Heller via Flickr

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Me: “So, John Q. Public, wanna go swim in the Atlantic?”

John Q. Public: “Hell NO! There’s sharks in there.”

Me: “So what!”

John Q. Public:”Go right ahead, I’ll stay on the beach.”

Can you relate to John Q. Public? Or, can you relate to me? Maybe you can relate a little bit to both of us. Whatever flavor you choose, don’t let misconceptions about sharks be the premise of your decision. This is no easy task in today’s 24/7 media coverage; the movie Jaws, Jaws 2, Jaws 3…Jaws 371 (or 370, I can’t remember) did not help anything either. If you relate only to John Q. Public, I urge you to do your own research on these amazing animals, before you base your decision solely on sharks.

RECENT SHARK ATTACK STATISTICS

The Florida Museum of Natural History Shark Attack File (FLMNH), which investigated 150 shark attacks worldwide in 2016, 81 of those attacks were considered unprovoked which leaves 69 attacks that were provoked.

Unprovoked- Incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.

So what does ‘provoked’ mean?

Provoked- Incidents involving sharks and divers in public aquaria or research holding-pens, shark-inflicted scavenge damage to already dead humans, attacks on boats, and other incidents involving provocation.

The Florida Museum of Natural History Shark Attack File says that “provoked attacks” usually occur when a human being initiates physical contact with a shark. The key word in that sentence is PHYSICAL. It does not simply say ‘contact’ it says ‘PHYSICAL contact’. The shark simply seeing you in its area, is most likely not enough to provoke it to attack you.

What does all this mean? Well, it’s simple, leave them alone and they will most likely leave you alone. This is no different than any other wild or domesticated animal; some dogs you can touch, grab, poke and prod, and it will never feel the need to retaliate. However, if you touch, grab, poke and prod the wrong dog, it might retaliate.

SHARK ATTACKS WORLDWIDE 2007-2016

Taking it back a decade, the The Florida Museum of Nature and History Shark Attack File compiled this table of attack numbers:

2007-2016

WORLD
(Total=766)
YEAR Total Attacks Fatal Non-fatal
2007 70 1 69
2008 55 4 51
2009 68 7 61
2010 82 6 76
2011 79 13 66
2012 83 7 76
2013 77 10 67
2014 73 3 70
2015 98 6 92
2016 81 4 77

To sum this table up- 766 total shark attacks, of which, 61 were fatal. The fatal attacks accounted for 7.9%. 766 TOTAL attacks out of the billions (including repeat visitors) of people that have swam in, snorkeled in, dove in, and lounged in the ocean or sea waters in that decade.

THE MAIN CULPRITS

When someone says ‘shark’, what comes to mind? Not this…

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Zebra Shark by David Wheeler via Flickr

They most likely think of this…

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Great White Shark by Venson Kuchipudi via Flickr

But the truth is, there are over 400 different species of sharks. This means, if you are an ocean connoisseur like I am, you have seen a shark, but had no idea it was a shark. I know because it has happened to me. I have seen “funky looking fish” that turned out to be sharks. They come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Some are ugly as hell and don’t even come close to resembling a shark as we think of them. And some, like the Black Tip, have the quintessential look that we do think of when we think of a shark.

Definition of a shark- A long-bodied chiefly marine fish with a cartilaginous skeleton, a prominent dorsal fin, and tooth-like scales. 

Well, that certainly leaves the door wide open for different arrangements in body and look, does it not?

Most sharks are harmless, but some can be dangerous. Does this mean you will get eaten if they see you? Very doubtful. Sharks have a reputation as being a man-eating machine…this is very false.

The ‘Big 3’, or the ones synonymous with the word attack are: The Great White, The Tiger, and The Bull. These three species can be aggressive and will attack if threatened. But, does this mean you should fear them? I don’t know, ask this woman…

Touching these animals is illegal and controversial, however, this woman was trying to show that these are not mindless, out of control beasts. A simple Google search will bring to your desktop tons of examples like this one. Right or wrong? Don’t know. That’s a totally separate topic for a separate blog post.

WE ARE NOT PART OF THEIR DIET

We are not in a sharks diet. They do not like the taste of our meat (get your mind out of the gutter). In fact, according to NOAA Fisheries Fact Sheet, when a shark attacks a human, it is usually a case of mistaken identity.

A shark notices thrashing about, or limbs dangling, and mistakes it for prey; they zip in, bite, and once they taste the blood, they realize it is not of their normal diet and release the victim. The problem with this when speaking of the ‘Big 3’, is that those sharks are large enough, powerful enough, and have teeth designed to rip and tear, so once they release their victim, they leave the victim with sometimes significant damage.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Duh! Stay out of water if it is a feeding ground for these sharks. Areas such as seal colonies, are a terrible place to go for an afternoon swim or dive, unless you are a trained professional. The other option for you is to avoid murky water where visibility is poor.If you can’t see it, what makes you think it will see you until it’s too late?

MY OPINIONS AND CONCLUSION

It is my belief that these animals are, for the most part, harmless. I have never dove with them- any species – but fully intend to.

I want to dive with any and all species of sharks; #1 on that list is a cage dive with Great Whites. Maybe some day, after the proper training and education, I can dive with Great Whites outside of a cage. Notice I said after proper training and education? That is because, even thought I don’t believe them to be man-eating machines out to murder, I know that they can be aggressive, and are more so aggressive than other species.

The key is not fear, it is education. Fear will not solve the problem and misconceptions people have about sharks; education will. These animals are not any different than any of us, or any other animal on Earth; they are just trying to survive like everyone and everything else. If they are in a state of starvation, sure, they will be aggressive. If they feel threatened, sure, they will be aggressive. Education! That’s the key.

If you don’t like the way salt water feels on your skin after you get out of the water, then to me, that is a more valid reason to not take a dip in our oceans and seas. Lol, trust me, it’s a sticky feeling after getting out, so I get it.

You must respect that you are in their environment and territories, we are just visitors in their home. It is not their job to look out for us, rather it is our job to look out for them. If you spoke a different language, and were of different culture than me, I would not come over to your house unannounced, unless I educated myself on your culture and language. That’s just rude, lol.

#ReplaceFearWithFacts

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