So, there was this local news item last week. While Santa Barbara isn’t typically a hotbed of shark activity, this was a reminder that indeed, sharks do live in the ocean.
That’s right, readers. Sharks live in the ocean.
It’s always interesting to observe how ocean swimmers deal with this fact.
Some take a spiritual, new-agey approach: If you just, you know, become one with the ocean and don’t give off the “fear signal,” the sharks will leave you alone. Fittingly and rather ironically, these people often are residents of San Francisco. (It’s OK, I used to be one.)
Others avoid the issue with euphemisms: “Man in the Grey Suit,” or “The Landlord,” or “Old Whitey”… or, most comically of all, “the S-word.” I guess the idea is, if you don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away.
Others put their faith in technology. Because obviously, the 6-meter, 2-ton “fish” attacking from below at 25mph is going to respect the little Shark Shield zapper dangling off the end of the kayak. Good luck with that.
And then there are kooks like this guy. Ah, well.
Me? I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. Sharks are fearsome creatures… but I’m still going to swim in the ocean. It’s a small risk - somewhere between an asteroid falling on your head and being struck by lightning - but still a risk.
And I think that’s the healthiest way to think about sharks as an ocean swimmer: as one of many risks we all take (often unwittingly) in everyday life. I drive a car, in which I could be smashed at any moment. I hike in the mountains, where venomous rattlesnakes lurk around every bend in the trail. And I swim in the ocean… where sharks live.
Swimming in sharky waters is a small risk - but not a constant one. It varies in predictable ways - and can therefore be minimized to our advantage. Some tips:
- Don’t dress like a sea lion.
- When you see a bait ball, get out.
- Pay attention to migration patterns.
- Never swim alone (most human-shark encounters are non-fatal, and it helps to have a buddy to drag your bloody hemorrhaging ass into shore).
- Never go out with a swim buddy who is faster than you (j/k).
- EDIT: Rob D. adds, “Avoid swimming at sunrise/sunset,” and agrees that, “If other animals are eating/congregating, food chain math says stay away.”
And, if all else fails, just close your eyes.