Surfing With Sharks: Fact vs. Fiction Shark Information
There has recently been a surge of interest in sharks ever since a shark attack in Monterey Bay California on August 28, 2007. The surfer survived, but suffered injury. Shark attacks continue to be very rare, so unless you live in the immediate area of the attack or surf very sharky waters, don’t let this attack deter you from surfing. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you, but remember that shark attacks are more rare than being hit by lightning. Read on for all our information on sharks!
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Sharks, the men in the grey suits.
Ever since the movie Jaws came out, our toothy neighbors have had trouble with their reputation. People tend to think that if a shark happens to be in the water within a half mile radius then it will make a beeline to bite them in half. This is completely untrue. As a species, they don’t really like to eat humans very much. We’re too bony for them =). They also tend to avoid contact with humans, and they’re usually rather wary of us.
Sharks are bloodthirsty man-eating beasts that often hunt humans for food.
It’s true, sharks are a hazard when you’re in the ocean. It’s ok to have respect for sharks, but don’t let your fear keep you from surfing or enjoying your time in the ocean. Shark attacks are very, very rare. You’re more likely to be killed in an automobile accident on your way to the beach, or struck by lightning while changing into your wetsuit. More people are killed by bees and snakes in the US than sharks.
That said, there are some places where sharks are quite common. Colder, deeper water or certain geographical locations have a greater number of sharks. One of the most popular exotic surf breaks, Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa, is known to be frequented by the men in the grey suits. Maverick’s in Half Moon Bay, CA is also a known sharky spot.
How to Deal:
If you’re attacked by a shark, you can do your best to try to fight it off. Several people have successfully fought off sharks by bashing them in the nose. I’m not joking around! Since the shark is usually put off by the boniness of our bodies and the fiberglass of the surfboard, most of the time sharks do not come back for another bite. You can add to its decision not to come back by striking at its nose and eyes as these are sensitive areas.
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Burgess, George H. “Reducing the Risk of Shark Attacks.” 1991. :
How do you escape a shark attack?
“Well, obviously you want to get out of there fast,” Burgess said, “but you should try to make your escape as quietly and evenly as possible.” He explained that sharks are attracted to splashing and are likely to be enthused by further activity, so the calmer you can make your panicked retreat, the better. “Of course, you want to do whatever you can to get away quickly if the shark’s following you, whether or not that means splashing,” he added.
What if you witness an attack?
“There are very few cases in which a rescuer suffered while trying to help a victim,” said Burgess. “Actually, helping a victim probably decreases the chances of a second attack, because the additional person may spook the shark and drive it away.” So if your friend is beyond the breakers and rehearsing for the next “Jaws” movie, try to overcome your natural instincts and dive in to help.
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In conclusion, I’d like to say that you should not let fear of sharks ruin your enjoyment of the ocean. Many experienced surfers often start feeling “sharky” while out in the water by themselves on a gray, cloudy day. This is quite normal. Some surfers will suppress the feelings, and others will exit the water if their “shark sense” becomes overwhelming. With some experience you’ll know what’s right for you.
It’s also common to see “shadows” in the water around your board. This is caused by the reflective and uneven quality of the water, as well as burns in your vision caused by the sun. I often see shadows and get a little thrill, but it’s important to think realistically.
Another cause for alarm is fish swimming around. Don’t worry if you see a large fish go swimming by. I’ve heard of bluefish trying to bite people, but don’t get your boardshorts in a bunch because it’s extremely rare. IF, however, you notice a lot of fish swarming around for some reason, it might be wise to exit the water.
A few more tips:
You can help to avoid shark encounters by doing the following (We do not guarantee that these work!):
- Do not surf in areas with lots of seals. If you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of seals, it would be wise to leave the area. Sharks prey on seals and might confuse you for one.
- Don’t surf with bleeding wounds.
- For women with their period, it’s OK to surf if you are wearing a fresh tampon. Use the highest absorbency you can find.
- This may be a myth, but try not to pee. (easier said than done, huh?) Urine is a sign of distress in some sea animals and it is thought that sharks may be attracted to urine.
- Don’t surf near fishing boats that are actively chumming.
- Don’t wear shiny jewelry.
- Avoid surfing at dawn or dusk if possible. This is the time when sharks are more active.
- I’ve seen websites say to avoid having an uneven tan because sharks see contrast well, but I think this is baloney. However if you want to be extra extra cautious, having an evenly tanned body will allow you to be fashionable as well as sharkproof. No zebra-print bathing suits, either. You also might want to rethink that neon yellow and black wetsuit.
Personal confession: Even though I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg, I have never seen the movie Jaws, and now that I am an avid surfer I am doing my best to avoid seeing it because I know it will not do me any good while I’m out in the water. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d personally advise you to continue to avoid it unless you are absolutely convinced that you will never be afraid of sharks. There are plenty of other movies to enjoy, so don’t go adding to your stress level. If you must see people getting eaten, watch the Alien series 😉