The myths and mis-conceptions
A few weeks ago my local bar had a special showing of Jaws. The hook was the Narragansett Beer, which was prominently consumed in the movie, and also enjoyed between fellow regulars at our bar. I even got a T-Shirt! The best part of the evening was the extra footage provided along with the DVD. Not only did we get to learn more about how the movie was made but also more about sharks. Which got me thinking. . .
Florida’s Gulf Coast is my home. People get bit by sharks here on the Gulf at least once a year. This fact has never entered my mind when the need to get wet and salty finds me, well wet and salty. Most of us know not to swim at sunset or sunrise, when the sharks tend to eat and come closer to the beach. We also know not to wear shiny or sparkly items on our swimwear, so we aren’t mistaken as silvery fish by the big mouthed bitch in question.
My interaction with sharks is more intimate than most. I’ve dove with them in Australia at the Great Barrier Reef, as well as Hawaii, Thailand and Panama. I recall a night dive in Australia when I got separated from my dive partner as I watched a turtle. A shark swimming through my flashlight beam reminded me that I was not at the top of the food chain at that very moment. Still, I had no problems. My favorite memory was when I was flying a small Cessna low over Sarasota and watched people swimming at the Ritz Carlton Beach Club as Hammerhead Sharks swam a hundred yards off shore from them. Hammerheads are pretty damn aggressive by the way. A detail I’m sure the Ritz won’t be putting in their brochures.
The bottom line reality comes back full circle to the movie Jaws. Popular society has baked fear into us when it come to sharks. Are some sharks dangerous in certain situations? Absolutely. Are sharks generally not a threat to humans? Absolutely. Numbers from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) prove it. From 1882 until the present there have been 682 people bitten by sharks in Florida. Holy shit, stay out of the water! Not so fast. Only 11 people have died from sharks in Florida in that time frame. More than 11 people will die in car accidents in Florida tonight and I don’t see cars going away anytime soon.
The news on the Caribbean is even better, since 1749 there have been 61 attacks and only 15 deaths. Most of the attacks and deaths have been in the Bahamas and Cuba. In the West Indies there have only been 8 deaths in this time frame.
Let’s put the fear instilled in us from the movies in the past and accept that sharks as a whole are not the Freddie Krugers or the Jasons from Friday the 13th that popular culture paints them to be. Sharks, to be sure, are animals to be respected and nothing more. Follow some common sense and you’ll swim to drink rum another day.