I thought that everyone knew that swimming or paddling in the ocean nearing sunset was never a good idea. Doing so in waters teeming with schools of fish made it double bad. These were prime target time s for predators such a big blues or even sharks to be searching for a meal. Yet, here were these surfers, probably in their late teens or early twenties nonchalantly awaiting the “Big One,” not the shark or big blue but the perfect wave.
A short time later I spotted a tiger shark swimming up and down the channel, a not uncommon but also not routine occurrence in those waters, I tried to get the attention of the fellows on the board, but they just waved and kept paddling. In the meantime, the shark, a young adult with stripes clearly visible through the small final breaker at the beach, continued to gorge on fish as he moved. It was the perfect way for him to satisfy his enormous appetite.
Later, one of the surfers approached me on the beach, asking why I was waving frantically. I told him about the shark and he just laughed and told me I had a big imagination. The laugh changed to a very surprised look when moments later he saw the shark swim by. He uttered nary another word, but turned red in the face as he walked over the beach dune. I never saw him again on the beach.
The point of all this is that sharks are always in the vicinity of the coast on the Atlantic. More often than not, we don’t see them, but just like the picture with this story, they are part of nature in the ocean. Some are more aggressive, like the bull shark who seems to have the most common occurrence involving human tragedy, but most sharks really aren’t interested in us at all. But when we are in their element, particularly in their path as they chase the schools, if we are “hit” by one it’s not that he wants us as his prey, but just that wet happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And since they feed around dawns and dusk, being in their hunting zone at that time is just foolishness. And as far as murky water is concerned, often it includes dead sea life components which the sharks pick up on and figure there is a meal and since they can’t see it, just like we can’t see them, welcome to the killing zone. Anything in his way is fair game. Thankfully, most sharks take an initial small bite and since they don’t like the taste, the victim is luckily only required to go for simple surgery or stitches. But, if it’s a big bull, all bets or off.
There’s also one other factor, especially common in Florida, which just bugs me to death. Some surfers hang out around the inlets because the meeting of the sea and sound or inland waterway river, generates large waves which surfers love. Sharks, however, love them, too, since schools of fish run in and out from the calmer river and the ocean continuously, hence another great hunting zone.
In all fairness, a lot of the hype and fear has come since the advent of movies like “Jaws” which, unfortunately, many people take as fact. And since that time as well, the coastal beaches have swollen dramatically with visitors. As a boy at Nags Head, there usually weren’t more than twenty thousand visiting the beach at any one time during the popular months on the Outer Banks. Today it’s more like a quarter of a million, more than tenfold in number, and this is the rule at most popular beaches, many with much larger numbers. With the increased volume of people come more and more who don’t have a clue about “the rules of the sea,” meaning common sense on the ocean. Huge numbers, many not properly education in the ways of the sea, always generates a higher number of encounters with sharks. This isn’t unlike the huge spike in drownings since the ocean isn’t like the neighborhood swimming pool and many newcomers have no idea what they are dealing with. A little educational preparation about the ocean before a first visit is always a wise idea.
So, give the sharks a break and realize they aren’t the problem. They are just doing what they’ve done for thousands of years and they play a huge part in keeping a population balance in the sea. Survival of the fittest is a natural phenomenon. The food chain plays a great part in balance and if we try to rid the sea of sharks, some very unexpected consequences are likely to fill in the gap. God knew what He was doing when He created the creatures of the deep, just like everything he does. Be safe, be responsible and continue to enjoy the beach and sea.