The Truth about Shark Attacks
by Jennifer Jordan
Recently, sharks have been getting a lot of press. From the man who caught a shark with his bare hands to the man who escaped from the mouth of another, sharks are making themselves hot news. Move over Flipper, it’s the sharks turn for fame.
Of course, this isn’t the first time sharks have been noticed. From the Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916, in which five people were attacked over a span of eleven days, to the 79 attacks that occurred in 2000, most of us don’t go into the ocean without keeping an eye out for a dorsal fin and an ear out for the theme song from Jaws. Still, no matter what we fear, sharks aren’t really man-eating machines. That’s not to say people should seek them out with words of “here fishy, fishy, fishy,” but being scared to go into the water isnâ€˜t necessary either.
Separating Myth from Reality
It may seem like the ocean is filled with hundreds of sharks, licking their lips and waiting for the sight of an unknowing human. This, however, is a misconception. Only a small percentage of sharks have ever harmed humans; with over 360 species, only four types have been involved in a measurable number of attacks: the tiger shark, the bull shark, the oceanic whitetip, and the great white.
When sharks do attack, nearly half the attacks are provoked. People are either following the sharks, teasing them, or making them feel somehow threatened. Unprovoked shark attacks do happen, but not often. In 2005, for example, 58 unprovoked shark attacks were recorded. Out of these, four of them were fatal.
Why They Attack
The reason sharks attack is somewhat of a mystery, one that will probably never be solved. It’s not, after all, like we can simply ask them. However, a number of theories exist in an attempt to provide some answers. As with any creature, a shark may attack based on instinct if it feels threatened or territorial. For unprovoked attacks, the most likely reason is that sharks mistake people for prey, believing that the person floating on a boogie board is really a seal.
This notion is backed by the fact that sharks often bite a person once, and then retreat. In the shark’s mind, they are leaving the prey to die, allowing the shark to retrieve its dinner later without a challenge. This may be the case with a seal – biting a seal may very well cause it to die – but many humans are able to escape by summonsing help. The fact that the shark retreats signals that it believes what it has bitten is an animal. Of course, it’s always possible that the shark retreats simply because humans don’t taste very good. Perhaps we need salt.
How to Avoid an Attack
The surest way to avoid a shark attack is to simply stay out of the ocean. This may not be plausible for those who enjoy sea-going activities. Thus, other forms of precaution should be employed.
First of all, if a certain area has been recently experiencing a significant number of attacks, stay out of that area. Sharks are not like lightening; they will attack the same place twice. Staying with others is also a good idea as sharks are much more likely to attack a lone individual than they are an entire group. Location and time of day are also key. For instance, sharks are less likely to attack near the shore and much more likely to attack near sand bars and drop offs. Sharks are also on the hunt during darkness and twilight hours.
Even something as simple as clothing can mean the difference between being attacked and being ignored. Sharks are more likely to attack people wearing shiny jewelry or bright colored clothing. This is because sharks have a keen sense of contrast. Sharks are also drawn to blood so entering the ocean while bleeding increases the risk. Any kind of excessive movement, including splashing or erratic motions, are also attractive to sharks.
When it comes down to it, most people can go into the ocean without ever even seeing a shark. Yet, any environment with wildlife has its risks. Being smart and aware of the dangers can make a sea of difference.