As a relative newcomer to the island (going on 4 years now) I get a lot of questions, especially from my European friends and relatives, on the dangers of sharks. Everyone and their aunt apparently know that Florida beaches attract sharks and we must have at least a dozen attacks a week. I have to severely disappoint them however. One of the reasons people over react to the shark issue is because of programs like the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”. For the past 22 years the Discovery Channel has unleashed “Shark Week” on its bloodthirsty viewers, which has given the cable network a tremendous ratings boon. Sunday night, August 2nd starts this year’s horror week with the two-hour premiere “Blood in the Water,” which tells the true-life story that inspired the movie “Jaws.” If you find yourself thirsty for more you can tune in over the course of the week for specials like “Deadly Waters,” “Sharkbite Summer,” and “Great White Appetite‚Äù. It says that Shark Week clears the beaches and in Florida this seems to be sadly true.
In the time that I’ve spend here on beautiful Amelia Island, there was one reported attack near Peter’s Point where a young woman got bitten in her lower leg. As a reminder I would like to post here some comparisons you may or may not have heard in relation to the risk of being attacked by a shark on a Florida beach.
‚Ä¢ You have a 30 times better chance to get hit by lighting and
‚Ä¢ You have a 10 times better chance to get hit by a falling coconut
Thought you might like to know.
Also, the International Shark Attack File reports that before last year’s altercation, since 1882, there had only been two recorded encounters, neither of which was fatal. Most attacks occur in or near shore waters, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars where sharks feed and can become trapped at low tide. Areas with steep drop-offs are also likely attack sites. Sharks congregate there because their natural food items also congregate in these areas. And no, don’t think that the presence of porpoises/dolphins indicate the absence of sharks — Not True as both often eat the same food items.
“Ways to Avoid a Shark”, there are lots of ways to avoid being attacked by a shark besides simply sticking to lakes, swimming pools, rivers and bathtubs. Here are some of the realistic ones to keep in mind:
‚Ä¢ Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual
‚Ä¢ Do not wander too far from shore — this isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance
‚Ä¢ Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage
‚Ä¢ Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating — a shark has a very strong sense of smell
‚Ä¢ Wearing shiny jewelry or colorful clothing is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales. Surprisingly, sharks can see contrast quite well.
‚Ä¢ Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action
‚Ä¢ Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements
‚Ä¢ Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs — these are favorite hangouts for sharks
‚Ä¢ Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one.
So okay, let’s assume that you are one of the unlucky ones. Oblivious to all our advice, you find yourself facing one of the magnificent creatures of the deep sea. What should you do to have a fighting chance if it decides to attack?
First of all, try to swim away quietly (and, obviously, quickly) and you may be OK. If you’re with a group, swim close to them, or, if you’re alone, try to make yourself look bigger — the shark might get intimidated by what it thinks is a bigger fish.
If the shark ends up attacking, remember this crucial information. These powerful predators are more sensitive than you might expect, and if you hit them hard in the nose or near their eyes, they just might swim away. Of course this means that you have to keep your wits about you and not panic. Since this does not come as second nature to most people, just remember that 3 non deadly attacks in 127 years is a lot better roll of the dice than all casinos and lotteries in the world combined. I’m reaching here, as in don’t take these numbers as facts, but I wouldn’t spend a moment worrying about a shark attack on Amelia Island. We’ll see if Shark Week clears our beaches this month.