By Rob Nixon
Special to the PRESS
Last weekend on one of surfing’s biggest stages at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa in the Final of one of the biggest contests of the year, one of Surfing’s biggest stars, three-time World Champion Mick Fanning was ‘attacked’ by a very large shark on a live internet broadcast. I put attack in quotes because more than likely the shark became entangled in Fanning’s leash causing it to thrash violently to get away. Luckily, Fanning survived without a scratch and made it back to shore along with his competitor, Julian Wilson who went to his aid unscathed. Whether the shark was a Great White or a Bull is not important. The important thing is that a very large amount of people saw what they perceived as a shark attack either on live television or all over the internet the next day. Given the interest in shark attacks with the multiple incidents in North Carolina and Virginia this summer, the media jumped all over this and despite their lack of knowledge of the area or about sharks, they just added fuel to the fire that is our fear of sharks. This frustrates me a great deal.
Go back a few years and I’m sitting in the surf lineup at Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island. The water is brown and murky and there are tons of fish running all over the place. So much so that surfers, including myself were being slapped in the face by them as they jumped out of the water running from something. They were running from bull sharks. We all knew it. We had seen them in the water breaking the surface. Should we have been out there? Hell no! But we were stupid in chasing good waves on a good surf day. I even saw a bull come up behind a young surfer as he was paddling for a wave and ‘kiss’ him as he caught it. We were pushing our luck.
My point is that sharks do what they do, they feed and during certain situations in the water we should avoid the entire scene. Humans are stupid and blind a lot of times when it comes to conditions on a beach. Surfers, behind fishermen, are some of the most observant and well aware people in or on the water yet we commonly ignore the threat of danger to get that wave we so desire. Swimmers are typically less observant but can be educated. When you’re standing on the beach looking into the water and see a lot of fish breaking the surface as well as birds diving into the water, that is a sign that maybe you shouldn’t be going out at all. Something is feeding there and more than likely there is a shark or two in the mix. To put yourself in that situation is reckless and dangerous.
Most, if not all, coastal tourism communities want to completely ignore the presence of sharks. I read a pamphlet few years back during Spring Break that we had absolutely had no sharks here. That is completely irresponsible and does not serve the public. The fact is that if you dip your finger in the water and taste it and it tastes like salt then there are sharks. The knee jerk reaction, as FOX News so ridiculously pointed out is to eradicate sharks from the shore. The problem with that is that it is us who are trespassing and not them.
As humans we have to realize that we are the visitors and the more we crowd the beaches and coastal waters the more we are going to come in contact with sharks. It can be an amazing experience. It can also be scary but they are there and trying to set up barriers to them has not ever worked and more than likely never will. The key is to educate the public, as perilous as that can be, as to what danger signs to look for before going out in the water.
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