Every summer I have the same thought going out into the water at the beach, at least once: what if there actually is a shark in this area? Growing up it was a natural cause for concern that movies, television, and older siblings did not help, but even now I wonder in which places and times sharks are a threat. I was always fascinated by their intimidating nature, and now I am eager to be exploring the actual scientific reasons behind their attacks.
According to an article from surfscience.com, over half of the world’s shark attacks occur in Florida, and the odds of being killed in America by a shark are one in 400 million (Source 1). Some say that you are more likely to drown, some say you are more likely to be killed by a cow. What’s certain is that attacks are extremely rare and although certain factors have been identified, it is still an unlikely and spread out occurrence with no structured fix. The world of beach security, surfers, and scientists is mostly united around the fact that attacks happen in Florida, Australia, and South Africa. It is common for these to peak in September for Florida, while sharks follow warm water and usually feed at dusk and dawn. As someone who mostly swims in New Jersey at the shore in the summer, I cannot say I have experienced a shark nearby more than once. Someone fifty feet from me did have a medium sized shark flip onto his board, and everyone was evacuated from the water for the rest of the day. It’s fascinating to have such an immediately recognizable and feared organism that is bound to its environment in a terrifying way. Another location of common attacks is North Carolina, where last summer seven people were attacked in less than a month, according to a New York Times article by Christine Hauser (Source 2). This is due to the shark populations chasing warm water.
Being able to identify areas and commonalities is one thing, but in 2016 we have access to a thorough and stable tracking database in ocearch.org, a website dedicated to showing you exact locations of sharks in the oceans. I personally think it’s a bit unethical considering what must be done in order to have them tracked, but it is still an incredibly fascinating and beneficial tool.
Ultimately, I am confident in the most current and common opinion that sharks should not be a concern during your typical beach vacation, unless that consists of surfing in Florida at midnight. Since shark populations should be protected and preserved like any species in its natural environment, we should be concerned with staying away from them rather than hurting them. However, it is stressed that in the case of a shark attack, one must try to scrape and grab at the eyes and gills. This is because most would think punching its nose is best, but in the water that can be more difficult (Source 1).
The most basic and obvious precautions should clearly be embraced in any water excursion that could potentially involve animals. Above all, I think humans need to remember that another being’s home is our recreation.