In Defense of Sharks

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On Thursday morning, I had to convince a solid dozen or so people that yes, there are sharks in the water, but no, they will not hurt you. Get back in the water!

Look, earlier this week, I had to explain to some wayward beachgoers what a horseshoe crab was, how it wasn’t scary and turned it back over to swim back to sea (the Delaware Bay is the main area of migration). It was probably this same excitable family who claimed they saw a shark. And maybe they did. But I’ve also seen people freak out about majestic, beautiful dolphins.

I told them, “There are millions of sharks in there. Just don’t stick your hand in their mouth!”

The father I was talking to said, “Yeah you know you’re right. It’s his birthday [pointing to his son].”

“Get back in there! I *promise* you won’t get attacked by a shark.” I didn’t give them my name. Ha.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, I saw a responsible fisherman return this otherwise harmless Angel Shark to the water:

I recall last year (when I first started writing this story), my Facebook feed blew up with this alarmist and — if you actually READ the story (a failure of most virally shared stories) — untrue tale about a shark washing up on the Delaware seashore.

The article had a photograph of a large shark chilling in the surf. The photograph was from National Geographic and was not only NOT the shark in question, but it was unclear just where or what kind of shark this was.

Instead, the ridiculous (yes, it was ridiculous) “article” was about a baby sand shark appearing near the surf. Someone allegedly took video of it, but it wasn’t featured in this online “news” story. And, irresponsibly, the thing went viral. News organizations picked it up. My feed exploded with shock and awe and declarations to never swim in the ocean again.

It made me crazy.

First of all, sand sharks are in the water and near the surf, and yeah, they probably won’t hurt you. I’ve seen countless fisherman pull them in and release them along the shores of the Delaware State Park. Here’s a little guy I met yesterday:

A baby sand shark caught by a responsible fisherman on Delaware State Park beaches.
A baby sand shark caught by a responsible fisherman on Delaware State Park beaches.

Second, the ocean belongs to them. Do you know how many species of shark there are? I don’t, but I know it’s a lot. They all CAN hurt you — they have sharp teeth! — but MOST, I repeat, MOST are not aggressive.

An aggressive shark? A Great White. We look like tasty deliciousness and they are certifiably hangry.

Instead, most will leave you alone. Lifeguards, I’m told, get “bumped” all the time in the ocean. That does not equal shark attack. However, this counts on you not being a jerk or an idiot.

Last year, we watched in sadness as the Delaware State Parks Department buried a shark. Earlier that morning, someone had caught an 8-foot Sand Tiger Shark about 2.5 miles south of where we are on a private beach. A Sand Tiger is a protected animal, but unfortunately this fisherman hadn’t done his research and didn’t know this. Instead of cutting the line, he brought the animal in and called authorities. Of course, by the time anyone could arrive the shark died.

From what I understand, the fisherman wasn’t fined (though perhaps he should have been), the Parks Dept. removed the head for research and testing, so at least it would serve some positive purpose, and then they buried the shark on the State Park side.

Yesterday, OCMD snapchat had a shark sighting — of a hammerhead shark. Can I talk to you about hammerheads for a minute? They are so cool looking. My grandfather had caught one in his deep sea fishing days oh so many years ago. He had it stuffed and mounted. Had my grandmother not tossed it out after his death, I would have asked for this.

Anyway, a hammerhead isn’t going to eat you. In fact, according The Maryland Coast Dispatch, this particular hammerhead was merely finding a spot to birth her 20 pups before dying.

Most of the videos and sightings were likely of this same hammerhead shark, who, the story explains was in the right season and location to give birth.

Of course, in North Carolina, it’s altogether different right now. And, for what it’s worth, North Carolina beaches have sandbars, which is why someone can be standing waist-deep waters; odds are that shark (or sharks) didn’t mean to be in such shallow waters.

AND, it doesn’t hurt to note that is the 40th anniversary of JAWS, so maybe folks are just a little extra aware.

However, to think there are not sharks in the ocean because there aren’t reported shark attacks is naive. It was seven years ago that I saw a fisherman pull up another 8-ft Sand Tiger Shark right next to where I was swimming. Fortunately this fisherman was able to recognize the animal and released him accordingly. We all got right back in the water, and were not eaten or attacked. If you hear about a shark near or on a local beach, please don’t freak out and do your research.

For instance, here are things to know:

  • Avoid swimming at dawn and dusk. The State Sergeant on-site at last year’s shark burial told me that the Sand Tiger Shark likes to feed in shallower water in the evenings.
  • Do your research. If you’re surf fishing, please look up the types of fish and sharks that are native to the area. Know how to recognize sharks by their fins and nose shape. Know what is protected. Know how to remove hooks. Have a buddy.
  • Don’t wear sparkling jewelry in the water. Experts say light defraction can attract sharks.
  • Don’t chum. “Gee, I was just throwing bloody fish in the water, I can’t understand why a shark came to visit us.” Um, duh. Please don’t chum near swimming beaches.
  • Dolphins aren’t sharks. Also, some sharks are afraid of dolphins, because they are one badass animal.
Sara Bozich
Author: Sara Bozich

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