Recently, an Ohio girl was bitten by a shark in Florida waters, that was the 7th reported shark attack in Florida waters this year (2009). Will there be other attacks?  Almost certainly, since  August and September remain for vacationers.  Mid-western readers who haven’t already enjoyed vacation time will be going somewhere soon, and often enough it’ll be to salt water.  Maybe to Myrtle Beach for sun and golf, to South Carolina, either side of Florida, or even to Texas or to visit relatives in California and Oregon, and swim off wave swept beaches.

All of these places have sharks, sometimes more than you might think, great whites, maybe tiger sharks, porbeagles, sand sharks, black and white tips, bull sharks, and hammerheads, all of which occasionally attack man, but should you worry?  Studies show that chances of dying of bee stings are substantially greater than being hit by a shark.  In fact, in 2005, 20 million people went swimming in saltwater, and only around a dozen were attacked, which is odds of less than one in a million.   But if you’re nervous, there are things you can do before stroking saltwater that will reduce your chances even further.

According to statistics and such authorities as the official Shark Attack File, the pattern that is most consistent is a relationship between fishing and shark attacks.  Sharks feed heavily on fish, and their excellent senses are well attuned to vibrations from struggling fish, fish blood in the water, and flashes of silver.  According to that file in 2005, 95 victims were fighting hooked fish when attacked (a boy who lost a leg was fishing), 62 were netting fish, and a further 44 were near netters.  At least 190 more were spear fishing, and a further 107 were bitten when spear fishermen were nearby.  The obvious moral here is to keep away from such activities, and stay far down beach from fishing piers.

Wearing bathing suits that aren’t flashy and bright is wise too, with the ocean colors of blue and green being best and bright yellow and orange the worst.  Avoiding deep water can also help, because while sharks will come right into the surf and often do, they have a preference for greater depths when loafing or cruising.  And don’t swim at night.  Studies indicate that many species come into very shallow water, even canals and up rivers, after dark to search for food.  Anyone skinny dipping then is asking for it.

Always avoid murky or muddy water because sharks can’t see you well, and a flashing white arm can be mistaken for a fish.  River tributaries will often spread muddy water into ocean surf, and bring dead fish and other morsels of food into salt water. Sharks like such places.  The same holds true for bright jewelry, gold and silver bracelets and necklaces which can trigger a bite before the shark knows he’s made a mistake. In fact, many of the 2009 attacks were reported in areas where bait fish were present.

Swimming with cuts or other injuries is always dangerous, and swimming near floating objects or using surf boards, inner tubes, and other floating devices is chancy.  Sharks just can’t resist investigating floating things as more than one surfer has found to his dismay.  Remember the little boy on the floating rubber raft in Jaws?  Finally, do your best to swim smoothly and easily instead of fast and splashy.  Women swim that way without trying, while men tend to chop the water and splash, sending out vibrations that might resemble an injured fish.  That’s why about eight out of ten shark attacks on swimmers are against men.

Keep the above facts in mind and follow them, but then go ahead and swim to your hearts content.  I’ve swam plenty in salt water, gone skin and scuba diving while sharks were close at hand, and had some magic hours in beautiful coral reefs.  Don’t miss the fun because you’re worried about sharks.  Getting bit just isn’t likely to happen.

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