Surfing with Sharks

Back when a Nantucket vacation was still within the means (and just barely) of a regular family, I spent a few idyllic summer weeks there in the late 70s.

One of the great thrills was being whistled out of the water by the lifeguards who saw bluefish jumping off in the distance. The bluefish often brought sharks, apparently, so swimmers had to come out until the school passed.

You can be sure, by golly, that Jaws was on everyone’s mind. But there was also something thrilling and adult (I was not yet 10) about collecting along the water’s edge with strangers, ooo-ing and ahh-ing about the danger and, occasionally, squealing about spotting a triangular fin … or fin-like shadow.

My mom, in the same mom-ishness that I employ today at the beach, would say, “Oh, don’t worry about sharks. They’ll never come close to shore. They’re more of a danger in places like California or Australia.”

I use these exact same words with my kids every summer when we visit the coast of Maine.

But then I see this, the story of a great white slipping beneath the feet of a surfer at Rockaway Beach. QUEENS, NY!

As a native New Yorker, I always thought no marine life would make it through the nest of needles, aluminum cans, and diapers that I used to see, daily, on my ferry trips into Manhattan from Staten Island, and that I presumed formed a radius of detritus around the entire city of at least 5 miles.

Apparently, I was wrong.

But, then again, according to Outside Magazine, I don’t have anything to worry about. In answering a reader’s question about how worried she should be about a shark attack, the Adventure Advisor replied:

No need to fear, Anita. You’re almost as likely to be gored by a unicorn as you are to be swallowed by a shark. So why, you’re probably asking, does it seem like the subject gets so much attention? Well, one: sharks are big, scary, and have sharp teeth—and hundreds of millions of them roam the seas. Two: when you’re swimming or surfing, you can’t see them coming. Three: every shark attack gets huge press—no matter where in the world it happens—because sharks are big and scary, and you can’t see them coming. And four: have you ever watched the movie Jaws?

Let’s examine the numbers, though. In 2011, there were 75 recorded shark attacks around the world, resulting in 12 fatalities, according to the International Shark Attack File. About one-third of the attacks occurred in North America, where none resulted in death. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 21 people in the country are killed by cattle each year. Yet no one makes scary movies about cows.

(Aside: Rob? Bovinaphobia could be a big seller. Whaddya got the works along those lines?)

The response went on to offer some sage advice such as not swimming while bleeding.

I was mulling all this shark info over when I logged onto Twitter and began following, with some absentminded amusement, the trending hashtag “#sixwordfilmplots. There were several fun ones – the best are always from the acerbic conservative pundits – but then I saw this:

Richard Dreyfuss ‏@RichardDreyfuss

Shark kills people, people kill shark #sixwordfilmplots


Well, at least he still remembers when sharks made him famous.

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