May 03 2017

Why You Shouldn’t Let Fear of Sharks Keep You Out of the Water

We’ve all seen Jaws. We’ve watched the Shark Week documentaries about shark attack survivors. In short, we know shark attacks do happen, but we’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where that is rarely an up-close-and-personal part of reality.

But this past weekend, we got a reminder that, yes, sharks do inhabit the waters of Folly and, sometimes, they tangle with people. Just ask Holly Dyar, the 33-year-old surfer who suffered the first shark bite of the season at Folly Beach on Saturday.

Dyar had paddled out and was sitting roughly 15 feet off shore on her longboard when a four- to five-foot shark swam up and bit her foot. After safely catching a wave back to shore, Dyar received medical treatment from the Folly Beach Fire Department.

However, Dyar has the right attitude when it comes to the incident, telling ABC News 4, “I’m definitely going to get back out into the water and keep going. Don’t let fear rule your life.”

As a seasoned surfer, Dyar knows that which is difficult to keep in mind when you’re overcome with fear – that what happened to her is not that common. When you compare the number of people entering the water every single day to the number of shark “attacks,” it’s easy to see that these altercations are pretty rare.

In fact, the term shark “attacks” is a bit of a misnomer. It is a widely accepted theory that sharks often bite out of a case of mistaken identity. In fact, that’s what Dyar believes happened in her case . . . that the shark swam up and bit her foot out of curiosity, to see if it was a food source.

Unfortunately, when a shark investigates a potential food source, it has no other means to do so than with its teeth. Since those teeth are extremely sharp and come in rows, bites to humans obviously do some damage.

Of course, staying out of the ocean entirely out of fear of running into a shark is illogical and, well, no fun either. Sharks live in the ocean; that’s a fact of life. Even when we can’t see them, the odds are good there is at least one of them nearby.

But since shark attacks result in only 10 human deaths per year, on average, statistically that puts you at a lower risk of being killed by a shark than dying from a fireworks accident, getting struck by lightning, or being in a car accident. The odds of being attacked and killed by a shark? Around 1 in 3,748,067.

On the flip side, experts estimate that over 100 million sharks die at the hands of humans every year – that’s approximately 11,000 sharks every hour.

So now that we’ve all agreed it would be silly to let fear of sharks keep you out of the water, you’re probably wondering if there’s any way to increase your chances of avoiding a run-in. Well, there are certainly some precautions you can take that might make a difference.

Shark safety researcher Christopher Neff recommends not going into the water during or after storms, because the inclement weather can stir up bait fish that cause feeding frenzies. Coupled with the cloudy water storms create, it could spell trouble.

Other times to avoid swimming include at dawn and dusk, when the water isn’t as clear and bait fish are out, as well as whenever any sort of guts, bait, or chum is nearby (for example, when someone is fishing in the near vicinity).

Some shark avoidance tips are cliché, like minimizing the amount of splashing and flailing you do when you are in the water – erratic movements signal distress to a shark and call attention to your presence. Or staying out of the water when you have a bleeding cut, because blood attracts sharks.

Other tips, though, are less familiar. For example, it is suggested that people with starkly uneven tans should be cautious swimming in open water. Why? Because skin color contrasts may draw in shark, who mistake those contrasts for color variations on fish.

The most important thing to remember when you go in the water is simply to be aware of your surroundings. Sharks don’t actively seek out humans as a food source, so don’t worry – you’re not as appetizing to these ocean dwellers as you may think.

 

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