What’s the biggest stress in a surfers life? A super-crowded lineup? Snapping your new $800 fun board? Yes, these things can ruin your day, but that’s not what we're getting at.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, there’s likely one thing that's been on your mind every time you paddle out for a surf: sharks. There’s been a huge amount of hype in the media surrounding shark attacks on surfers in recent times, especially since the J-bay Mick fanning incident.
Are we all on the menu? or is there something else going on here?
The ocean is sharks territory, not ours, so there's always the risk of being attacked when we enter. What can we do to minimise that risk?
The most popular approach to avoiding shark attacks up until now has been simply telling yourself “Nah, it wont happen to me”. Lets take a closer look into the 'sticking-your-head-into-the-sand' strategy and look into what you can actually do when it comes to shark attacks (and avoiding them)
Falling Coconuts vs. Sharks
"You’re more likely to be killed by a coconut falling from a tree than a shark in the ocean"
You've heard that statement before, but is it true? Or just an urban legend we tell ourselves to feel better in the water?
According to quite a few scientific testing bodies it’s true: You’re 10 times more likely to be KO’d by a coconut than killed by a shark. Falling coconuts result in 150 (on average) deaths each year where as shark attacks result in 15.
Here are some other unexpected killers that are more likely to get you in the end before a shark does:
- Mosquitoes (i.e. Malaria - which is a huge and real risk for travelling surfers)
- Falling over
- Hot dogs
- Your hot water tap
Very absurd sounding, but you get the point - you've got other things to worry about.
Sharks Are After Us - Hype or Reality?
One things for sure - our grey suited friends are definitely getting their fair share of exposure in the media and online; it seems like you’ll hear about a new incident/scare every week.
Is it because they have decided to wage war on humans? Or it it just media hype, combined with the power and speed of social media?
There have been a few events/attacks recently that have brought the issue back to the forefront of the surfing world, the main one being The Mick fanning incident at J-Bay. Are there more shark attacks now, or is it just the media?
The following graph shows the incidence of recorded shark attacks over the past 20 years according to the International Shark Attack File:
Looking at those figures, it’s increasing slightly, yes, but before you come to to conclusion that sharks have waged a war on humans, realise this:
"looking only at the statistics is being extremely closed minded"
What about all the other factors in play here? Two things that we can look at and safely point the finger at is social media hype, and population growth
1. Social Media Hype
Social media controls what you ‘think’ is really going on in the world these days. Things go viral, and suddenly everyone knows about it. It's just the way it is.
Is there really an increase in shark attacks? Or are our news feeds just being attacked by media sharks and blowing the whole thing out of proportion?
On the Gonetogetsalty.com Facebook page we posted an update about the Mick Fanning shark incident and the results were crazy.
The post reached almost 10 000 people, while other posts around the same time wouldn’t even get close to reaching 1000 people. Why was it so popular?
Bad news is very shareable on social media, so you tend to hear a lot about it. Think about it, when is the last time you heard or shared a post about when a shark didn’t attack someone?
5 years ago if there was a shark attack at your local beach you would hear about it, eventually. Now, if there's a shark attack at the other side of the world, you hear about it, instantly. Are there more shark attacks? or is it that we now hear about almost EVERY attack?
2. Population growth
News flash: the population is increasing, and with the growth in numbers, we get a few side effects which very likely correlate with increasing shark attacks around the world:
- Over-fishing of our waters
- More surfers in the water
Worldwide shark attacks are increasing, yes, but this makes sense with increasing surfers in the water and less fish in the sea (due to marine life being harvested) doesn't it?
More people in the water and more surfers = more shark incidents (It's not rocket science)
Watch Yo'self: The Worlds Sharkiest Surf Spots
Here are the locations from around the globe with the highest number of shark attacks in the past decade.
Congratulations too New Smyrna Beach Florida: the shark attack capital of the world according to ISAF.
How To Avoid Shark Attacks (What You Can Do About It)
So you know where the sharkiest spots are in the world, and you kind of know why it seems like there are more shark attacks happening, but what can you actually do to make sure you don't turn into an ocean dinner?
Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, here are a few things you could try...
1. Dont go in the water
As funny as it may sound, remember that surfing is an ‘extreme sport’ which means there are risks involved. If you are THAT worried about being eaten by a shark, the solution is simple: Don’t go in the water.
You could always take up chess? We hear it’s less dangerous.
If you’re like us, surfing is just too much fun to give up, and you’ll keep risking your life. Try the next few strategies.
2. Cull em'
Shark culling is a touchy subject in Australia right now, particularly after shark attacks in 2014 in Western Australia and more recently in the Northern NSW Ballina-Byron region after experiencing a number of fatal and non-fatal shark attacks.
The bottom line is this: shark culling is a poor knee jerk reaction to the idea of shark attacks, and will very likely do nothing but threaten the species.
In fact, It’s been said that culling will actually make the oceans MORE dangerous, as less opportunities to track and observe these creatures will mean we are no closer to understanding them. Information empowers us and will help us to avoid being attacked.
Just like a surf forecast can warn us to stay out of the surf due to dangerous conditions, understanding sharks will allow us to know what makes them tick - and avoid getting in their way when its time to attack.
In a nutshell: culling will NOT make the oceans safer.
3. Wear a shark Deterrent device
Also known as anti-shark devices - they emit an electromagnetic field/pulse underwater which supposedly causes a shark to have muscle spasms and experience high levels of discomfort, thereby repelling them from the area and hence avoiding an attack.
Do they actually work?
Searching online will only leave you more confused; you’ll find plenty of testimonials & videos from the creators of these products claiming that they DO indeed work, but you’ll also find studies run by various testing bodies claiming that testing was inconclusive (meaning they don’t really work)
While the test results were not 100% concrete, the studies performed by shark-shield seem to show that these devices do work to some effect, however they are not a foolproof solution; there is still risk involved!
The bottom line is - a deterrent device could be a good option, but it’s not a guarantee against getting attacked. You will however definitely receive a nice ‘peace-of-mind’ boost.
4. Wear a 'don't eat me' wetsuit
Sharks have an amazing range of senses (they can even detect electromagnetic pulses given off by other living organisms) however it’s their vision they rely upon in the final moments before an attack.
A recent study which was featured on Ted talks tested a simple yet smart theory: paint a wetsuit with stripes which mimic the warning systems of most marine species. The results were pretty amazing, and it seemed that the shark deterrent wetsuit continually stopped the testing dummy from being attacked.
If it’s too warm for a wetsuit, at the very least you could paint stripes onto the bottom of your board (and cross your fingers!)
Getting Attacked: How You Should React In A Shark Attack
At the end of the day, the above forms of protection are never are guarantee, so here are some tips to help you prepare for a shark attack (which hopefully, you’ll never have to go through)
- Avoid sudden movements and watch the shark like a hawk - When a shark is attacking they tend to sneak up on its prey, meaning they may circle you, or attack you in a different way. To escape successfully you’ll need to know where it is, defend yourself and plan an exit, so keep you eyes on it at all times. You’ll never out-swim a shark, so avoid swimming away with your back turned.
- Get ready to fight - Mick Fanning must have been doing his research when he punched that shark at J-bay because punching a shark in the nose or poking it in the eyes MAY help in fending off a shark during an attack. Most sharks don’t want to work hard for their dinner, so if you punch them in the snout, eyes or gills, there is a chance they will swim away.
- Hug the shark (not in a ‘I love you’ kind of way) - during an attack a shark will sink its teeth into its prey and then whip it from side to side to tear it apart. Theoretically, if a shark sinks its teeth into you, grabbing a hold of it while it shakes you will stop you being teared to shreds. Lets just hope it never comes to this.
- Find its blind spots - since sharks eyes are on the side of their heads they can see almost 360 degrees, but not quite. Their 2 blind spots will be right in front of their snout, and directly behind their head (near their tail). If you get in these spots, start punching.
What do you think about the issues surrounding sharks?Scaring the s**t out of you, or are you not bothered? Leave a comment below, we'd love to hear from you!
We hope you never have to use the above advice, besides, you should be more worried about the killer coconuts anyway.