It is with a somber mind that I approach Shark Week this year.
While I typically anticipate it gleefully, there have been so many shark attacks of late it’s difficult to be really excited about this celebrating of all things shark when the toothy predators are the very thing drumming up a whole lot of fear at the moment.
It was just about this time last year that I last wrote on sharks, recalling my unexplainable love affair with not only Shark Week (which begins Sunday on The Discovery Channel, by the way), but also “Jaws.”
It was in that column that I discussed the persistent image of the shark, as seen on the old “Jaws” movie posters, that refuses to leave my mind, not just when I am in the ocean, but when I am in any body of water (even if it is a safe, shark-free backyard pool). It just doesn’t matter, the images are too powerful.
And one cannot deny that the recent spate of attacks so near to beaches in the Carolinas do not help mitigate the fear factor at all.
Though, it certainly helps to be able to put some things in perspective, especially for those of us who are planning to be near those waters in the very near future.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, fatal attacks appear to be minimal, no matter what “Jaws” or “Sharknado” would have you believe.
The most active area in the world, according to that data chart, is Florida, with 219 attacks from 2005 to 2014. Two of those attacks were fatal. In that same time span, North Carolina and South Carolina combined had 63 total attacks with none fatal.
While those numbers should be reassuring, knowing that six attacks have occurred in the Carolina waters in June alone is not.
When shark attacks start becoming a news item, Australia always comes to mind. The chart lists the southern hemisphere country second to Florida on attacks with 123 from 2005 to 2014. Fifteen of those were fatal.
Perhaps that has everything to do with the types of sharks lurking off certain shores. I don’t know for sure. But as a side note, I made my mind up a long time ago that I never intend to go frolicking in the waters off Australia. This chart has served to underline that mental declaration.
A recent article in The Washington Post said that this summer there are more tourists in the water, and more sharks, too.
The article quoted George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, as saying that “it is important to have this perspective so people don’t get ahead of themselves and fear a ‘Jaws-like’ scenario.”
I get it, and I’m sure you do, too.
It’s just not possible to have a vengeful, thinking machine of a shark out there methodically killing humans because it has a score to settle. Sharks are machines, sure, but I think we can all agree they are the eating variety rather than the rational, thinking variety.
When we swim in the ocean, we’re on their turf, in their home, in their yard. And with something as big and diverse as the ocean, there are always risks. The recent attacks just kind of reinforce that notion.
Be alert. That is one of the messages experts are putting out there. The sharks are always there. Really, they are. Being aware of one’s surroundings is always a good idea, whether it’s an ocean shark or a land shark you’re looking out for.
There is nothing wrong at all with keeping the swimming to the heavily-chlorinated waters of a nearby pool with nothing toothy looking for a meal therein. And there’s no shame at all in parking your rear end on the beach and just taking in all the sensory gloriousness from your dry, sandy perch.
Plus, you’ve got the advantage over the sharks when you’re on dry land. Personally, I’m a whole lot more prone to enjoy my vacation when I can keep the upper hand over the one with all the teeth.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.