By Tom Neale, 9/15/2011
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I don’t like sharks. I really don’t. And I’m not particularly fond of the voguish pretty folks who go around saying things like, “Oh, they’re wonderful magnificent creatures of nature and really don’t want to eat us. It’s just a mistake when they do and we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” Or, “Oh, it’s just one rogue shark that ate those people and we’ll get it soon and all the rest of the sharks are really good guys.” Or, “They’re living their lives where they belong and we’re intruding on them.” Or, “They’re just poor misunderstood creatures.” And I could repeat a lot more, to which I say to all: a big resounding BS.
First of all, I “belong” in the ocean too. I’m not intruding when I’m there and I’m not doing any harm. Some do, I realize, but that’s another issue. Secondly, this isn’t an issue of a shark’s malevolence or beneficence or innocent neutrality. It’s an issue of the fact that the shark sees me as food, or a food possibility, and if he chooses he can eat all or part of me very easily. And, unlike the shark, I’m not going to be particularly enjoying the progress. I don’t hate sharks; that would be a waste of emotion. I simply don’t like them and I don’t like it when misguided intelligencia and poorly informed politically correct people on TV overlook the fact of what sharks are: killing machines. And people are included in the target zone. I realize that some of these have significant experience diving with sharks around, but they also usually have a lot of people around looking out for them.
|Nurse shark peacefully cruising the bottom.|
Another thing they say is that, considering the numerical odds, it’s extremely rare that a shark ever bites anybody. Yeah. Right. And I’ve seen the pictures of sharks among surfers and swimmers with nobody aware of it but the photographer. So maybe in theory there’s something to this. But if you’re the one in the water rolling on your side with blood gushing out in huge spurts where your leg used to be, I don’t think the numerical odds are going to mean a thing.
Some people are making money these days, giving tourists an up-close and friendly swim (actually they’re usually hanging out in a cage) with sharks, and some tourists are actually PAYING MONEY for this privilege. These folks (especially the ones making the money) are fond of saying nice things about sharks, but there are irrelevant fringes wherever you look on any subject. There are some places where people jump in the water with so called “nice” sharks, like the Nurse Sharks. Nurse Sharks are relatively nice as sharks go. They like to laze around near the bottom going after trash rather than coming after a livelier meal like me. But let one of them get your hand or leg in its mouth and “nice” is probably the last thing you’ll be thinking as you drown. And one particularly large nurse shark did come after me once. I don’t know why, but I know it happened and I certainly wasn’t bothering it.
And speaking of tourism, when one or more people are killed or bitten while swimming at a tourist beach, it isn’t unusual for the local officials to declare that there’s a “rogue killer” shark out there and they’re going to take it out. Like in the movie “Jaws.” They’re all killer sharks. And sharks of a species look very much alike. And often sharks of a species are attracted to an area for one or more reasons. And when a shark gets somebody at a beach there’s very seldom any witness available as to what the shark looked like (which was probably like all the other sharks around.) And when the professional fisherman hauls in a big one and strings it up, no one knows whether that’s the shark…or one of the sharks….that had the good snacks off the beach. But the officials say, “all’s well” and the tourists wade happily back into the water until the next time.
Once a friend and I were diving for fish and conch far off the beaten track in the lower Exumas. A big shark got very interested in us. We’d stupidly wandered far from our little dinghy. We swam to the dinghy, side by side, on our backs so that we could see the shark, flipping into its face with our flippers. We swam for about 15 minutes although it seemed like hours. The idea was that the frothing from the flippers might discourage it, and if it didn’t and he took a bite, as long as it wasn’t too big a bite, he’d only get flippers and hopefully wouldn’t think they tasted very good. We finally got back to the dinghy at which point we had to turn our backs to the shark and climb over, a feat difficult in itself because the dingy kept trying to turn over as we frantically wriggled aboard. Now this shark didn’t have anything personal against us, he just wanted to eat us…or at least check us out with that as a possible goal.
This and many other experiences led me to adapt certain practices. One was to build an aluminum (tough and not very tasty) dinghy that was wide enough for two or more people to quickly flip over the side from deep water without flipping the dinghy.
Another was to never venture far from it. Another was to not stay in any one area to long fishing. (We fish with a Hawaiian sling—giving the fish a huge advantage and allowing us to take ONLY what we’re going to eat, without injuring anything else.) Another was to always have a dive knife. I’ve heard from very experienced people that if a shark is nosing into you, he may be checking you out to see if you’re tasty. If you can poke him in the nose with the butt end of the knife he may get the idea that this is what you taste and feel like and he’d rather go find something softer and juicier to chomp on. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with poking a shark coming after me in the nose, although it’s better than some of the alternatives. I prefer flippers, but I’m never in the water after fish or diving without a dive knife.
The dinghy has served well both in her hardness and her ease of re-entry from the water. She also served well once as a measuring stick. Some years ago our family was in the water in the Bahamas, after a grouper under a ledge. Our 12-foot aluminum dinghy was close by. Mel tapped me on the shoulder and pointed over hers. There, between the dinghy us (including our two young daughters), was a huge Hammerhead, far longer than the dinghy. I’d say it was around 15 feet, as compared to the dinghy. It glided on and we glided back to the dinghy and didn’t do any more diving in that spot for a long while. And yes, we had every right to be fishing, as we were, for our dinner. We all had a right to be there. The only difference is that there’s no way I could have bitten a chunk out of that shark although he would have had no trouble doing that to me.
As much as some would like for it to be so, the world isn’t a Disneyland. And many parts of “beautiful Nature” are still wild and very dangerous. The Ocean is very wild. I love it anyway, just not its sharks.
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