Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Shark? Nix on Tricks, ‘Cause Sharks and Peeps Don’t Mix!

Oh, that’s adorable! Afraid of the big bad shark, are you? Is it gonna get ya? Oh, it’s gonna get ya! Nom-Nom-Nom! These are the patronizing taunts of my friends and family when we’re at the beach.

Small wonder I hate it there. Aside from most beaches being horrid, I get teased every time I go to one. Why? Because I can’t help but entertain the idea of sharks being in the vicinity.

Swimming with a great white shark (photo courtesy Juan Oliphant @JuanSharks @OneOceanDiving)

The sorts of people I associate with find this hilarious. “Seriously,” I double down, “all oceans have them,” referring to big bad sharks and the like. “This here stretch of water (insert pause for effect) is no exception,” I add, hoping to strike fear into the hearts of my tormentors.

Alas, my pleas for caution fall on deaf ears. Still, my buzz-killing continues, albeit in the form of safety instructions, fired off semi-automatically: Keep your head on a swivel, the volume at a minimum, the beach within reach, and, most importantly, don’t splash!

Splashing, in case you didn’t know, alerts the ocean’s least hospitable inhabitants to your presence and location. Over millions of years, sharks have developed the uncanny ability to detect vibrations caused by anything with a pulse.

Cannonballing, belly-flopping, and karate chopping the water are ill-advised. Such signals, indiscernible from those transmitted by dying fish, are perceived as a dinner bell – a beacon for predators looking for a quick bite.

So, congratulations Mr. Splashy Pants! Not only do you resemble prey, but you also fall under the easy meal category: a creature on death’s door, flopping about on the surface, unable to get away.

Even if the probability of a shark being near is extremely low and the likelihood of it attacking you is practically zero, you’re still putting yourself in an incredibly vulnerable and disadvantageous position – bad form, if anything.

Best not make a habit of it, regardless of the odds. Besides, if you’re fixating on the numbers, you’re missing the point. It’s not about the likelihood of an event, but rather about the event itself: a shark attack.

Some say you’re more likely to experience a heart attack than a shark attack in the water. Is that right?

Well, allow me to retort. First, I’d take a heart attack over a shark attack any day of the week.



Second, I’d rather have my heart attack on dry land, thank you very much. Others say you’d sooner win the lottery than be killed by a shark.

This ploy always backfires. Instead of getting me into the water and behind the surf, it gets me behind the wheel and off to the closest convenience store:  Two “Set-for-Life, Millionaire Edition” scratch-offs, please! And some Skittles.

Now, Skittles are not my favorite food, but eye level is buy level. That’s where your legs hang when you’re in the ocean, treading water. Suppose a shark was cruising along, minding its own business, and, lo and behold, there you were, legs dangling.

A friendly leopard shark

Is your money on the shark resisting the urge? Mine’s on it making an impulse buy at the register. Having discovered the rainbow, it’s going to taste the rainbow.

That seems to be the general consensus judging by how quickly the word “shark” clears everyone out of the water. But experts disagree. They say the odds of one swimming straight by you, as opposed to taking one of your limbs to go, are 99.9%.

Wow! Who knew marine biologists were so good with numbers? Spoiler alert: they’re not. Still, that doesn’t stop them from dishing stats out with impunity.

And there’s a good reason for that. Shark experts don’t just study sharks; they represent them. Think of them as shark ambassadors, serving as spokespeople for their subjects: Thou shalt not besmirch my shark’s good name. Most are conservation warriors, fighting for the same cause: Save the sharks, they’re the real victims here.

Information challenging this narrative is dismissed. Example? They cite fatality numbers and neglect the total sum of unprovoked shark attacks, seeing as how the former hammers their point home (only 5 last year) and the latter trumps commercial plane accident figures. Thus, over 50 shark attacks are swept under the rug.

They also lump shark species together, including toothless ones, diluting the proportion of attacks from more aggressive species.

But wait, there’s more! Since considering unreported attacks can only mean the actual numbers are higher than those advertised, the word “unreported” hardly ever comes up.



Meanwhile, the vague and open-ended “sharks are misunderstood” maxim is constantly rammed down our throats. Miss. Under. Stood! Whose fault is that? Jaws? Deep Blue Sea? Sharknado? Scapegoats all!

Sharks are misunderstood because the people responsible for educating us about them are often (if not always) difficult to understand. They tell us that sharks are disinterested in people and then instruct us to exit the water should we find ourselves in the presence of one.

Great white sharks are best avoided (photo courtesy www.fisheries.noaa.gov)

They tell us that we’re not on the menu and then say sharks are opportunistic feeders. They tell us sharks are apex predators and then say they’re practically harmless. Correction: most sharks are harmless. No shit. We’re talking about the harmful few (white, tiger, and bull), which populate most of our planet’s blue parts, especially those hugging our shores. News to you, huh?

Either way, and with that in mind, consider how most people treat the ocean while out on a day at the beach—frolicking and floundering carelessly, splashing and thrashing loudly, and generally making asses of themselves, almost as if they were at a waterpark. But the ocean is no waterpark. No more than a rainforest is a jungle gym, or a desert is a sandbox, or a biker bar is an Applebee’s.

Consider again that biker bar. The lights are on, the doors are open, and everyone (by the looks of things) is welcome. But you know deep down you have no business being there.

Enter at your own risk. At any given moment, a giant troll, clad in leather and riddled with scars and/or prison tattoos, might succumb to his curiosity, change course at whim, and beeline to your booth unprovoked. This probably won’t happen, but it could. And if it does, you won’t see it coming.

One minute you’re horsing around and having a good time; the next, a monster’s towering over your table, looking at you with his one good eye, an inquisitive gleam bouncing off it: Are you lunch? That’s what sharks do. What do we have here? And chomp! There goes your arm.
This brings us to the part where I try (in vain, I’m sure) to cover my own ass. Marine biologists mean well. They know a thing or two about sharks. Generally speaking, you should listen to them. But when it comes to the shark attack discussion, their biases muddy the waters, so be skeptical of what they say. As you should with what I say.

I’m no expert. But neither am I a shark- hating, fear-mongering sensationalist. I’m just the little piggy who built his house out of bricks, throwing Skittles at the window, trying to get your attention:

There are monsters out there, gliding beneath the surface. Once you cross that threshold, you’re effectively in the wild, where nothing separates you from them. So, act accordingly: head on a swivel, volume down, beach within reach, and please, for the love of all that’s holy, refrain from splashing.

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3 replies
  1. Theo
    Theo says:

    What Peter Benchley has done to the Great White Shark with his book is a real disgrace! This lurid story has cost the lives of countless of these magnificent creatures …


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