Why are shark bites so prevalent on both U.S. coasts this year, and
how can someone prevent an attack?
Three reasons for the prevalence of shark bites come immediately to
mind. First, more people are swimming in coastal areas than ever before.
Second, environmental conditions of ocean waters and weather, conditions
that may be unpredictable even with the most sophisticated climate models,
can temporarily shift the feeding patterns of mobile marine animals.
This means predators of various kinds could be attracted to an area
because of unusual concentrations of certain prey.
most important explanation of all is that cell phones permit instant
video opportunities. Today, before helping a buddy who is trying to
escape a shark, some people are tempted to take a short video that would
be suitable for the evening newscast. If your attempt at a wildlife
documentary took too long because you were filming instead of rescuing,
you always have the afterbite footage. Many minor bites we hear about
on the national news would have gone unknown and unnoticed in years
past. Today, few shark bites are likely to go unreported, including
during and on the way to the hospital.
previously answered some questions about sharks with a review of the
book "Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide" by Gene Helfman and
George Burgess (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). The facts and
rules of what to do have not changed, but they are worth repeating.
One of the foremost questions any beachgoer might have is what are the
odds of being attacked by a shark? The answer according to the book
is simple and straightforward: In the United States, a person's chances
of being attacked by a shark are less than 1 in 11 million. The chance
of being killed is "less than 1 in 264 million." You are more
likely to have your sunglasses stolen by a sea gull than to be eaten
by a shark. Clearly, being attacked or killed by a shark while you're
frolicking in the ocean should be quite low on your list of things to
worry about at the beach.
As to why
sharks attack people, the book presents facts and speculation. Some
bites are attributed to defensive or aggressive responses by sharks
in special situations. Some are believed to be actual feeding attempts.
But whether the human was mistaken for a common prey item, such as a
seal, or the shark was actually trying to feed on a human would be hard
to determine. Experts believe that most people along U.S. coasts are
bitten not by great whites or other well-known predatory species but
by common blacktip sharks, which reach a length of less than 7 feet.
you lower your odds of being bitten by a shark? Some rules should fall
in the "you didn't really need to tell me that" commonsense
category, but based on news reports I've heard, some folks still need
telling. Don't go in the water if you see shark fins. Don't touch a
live shark unless you have already been attacked. Also, sharks can smell
blood, so stay out of the water if you have an open cut; no sense advertising
yourself as shark bait. And how about this? Don't swim near where people
are fishing off a pier for sharks.
you do if a shark threatens you? Head toward shore however you can manage
it - quickly and noisily or slowly and stealthily, whichever seems like
it might work. If you have started to become a meal, yell as loud and
long as you can. You might attract the right kind of help or even distract
your attacker. And don't go down or be chewed on without a fight. Pound
with your fists and kick a shark's nose or any other bodily part, except
the teeth. Then, whatever the outcome, at least you won't look like
a wimp when your struggle goes viral on YouTube.
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