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An Editorial On Sharks, In Byron Bay Today

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An Editorial On Sharks,. With all the media attention on the latest tragic shark attack in West Australia and the current Great White sightings, in Byron Bay today. I thought now is probably a good time to just remind folks of the reality of surfing with sharks these days. Firstly my sincerest condolences to all the family and friends of all the victims of any shark attacks, both recent and those long ago. I mean really let's face it, the primal fear and terror of being eaten alive, is about as heavy as it gets. But that is not what this editorial is about; it is about the public reaction to these incidents, and the weird glossing over of reality that us surfers seem to do when it comes to sharks. It seems we would all prefer to pretend that either sharks are not there, or that they are harmless inquisitive creatures, that really are not interested in us. Both statements are not what I have experienced, so let's explore that a little.

Every time some poor unfortunate person gets attacked by a shark in Australia, we are met with the cries of those calling for the death of the shark responsible, now this is understandable due to the fear, shock and pain of the incident, but I believe it is also misguided. We really should be calling for honest education and especially honest tourism information about sharks. Quite simply, sharks are a part of the brutal reality of the ocean. They are something that those of us who enjoy a life in the water must learn to live with. Pretending they are not around or misinforming people that they are harmless, is in my opinion utterly reckless behaviour with another person's safety.

The way I see it, is that we are in their (the sharks) domain, and in their domain, they are at the top of the food chain, not us. I suspect it is the attitude that sharks are harmless, that gets folks in a panicked state of mind, once an attack takes place. Why? Because people run around saying hey sharks are normally harmless peaceful creatures. Therefore this must have been a rogue shark, and so people panic about rogue sharks. Sorry, but in my opinion and personal experiences with sharks, I would have to say it is just a shark, and sharks are unpredictable.

Problem is we humans we don't like that idea, it challenges the delusion we have chosen to believe so we can all feel safer in the water. A shark is a shark, not a dolphin. Fact: juvenile great whites eat each other in the womb! Only the strongest and most aggressive survive to be born, this no fluffy harmless naturally inquisitive creature. Sure they may be inquisitive, but that's most likely because they are checking whether you are a piece of food, a threat, or just some flotsam. So where does that leave us? Do we cull them? I hope not, you can't blame a shark for being a shark.

I believe a good place to start would be to educate the tourists and newcomers to surfing with some of the wisdom that those who have surfed for years know all too well. Sharks most definitely can be a threat to our safety, does this mean we shouldn't surf or swim? Of course not, I mean it hasn't stopped me or most other surfers I've known over the years. I just believe that if we want to feel safer, we need to understand the reality of the situation.

If you surf or spend time in the water regularly and long enough, chances are you will eventually come face to face with sharks. That's just the way it is, which species of shark and where they are, will determine a lot about how they behave. But keep this in mind, identifying a shark that is below the surface while, you are floating on the surface is not easy for the inexperienced. So much so, that a beginner will often mistake dolphins for sharks. So better off to treat them all with the respect a large wild predator deserves. Let's throw up a few simple tips for dealing with the shark situation if you find yourself in it. First off identify it's a shark. A dolphin's tail is horizontal and moves up and down. A shark's tail is vertical and moves from side to side.

  1. DON'T PANIC! This so important, people rave on about sharks smelling fear, well I don't know about that. But I do know that sudden movements tend to piss them off or at the very least disturb them. So stay calm. Ever heard the saying 'let sleeping dogs lie', well let cruising sharks cruise.
  2. Try to keep an eye on the shark. Try to know where it is, and what direction it is moving. Look for the closest part of the shore and calmly head towards the shore. But only if the shark is not between you and the shore. As a rule, wild creatures do not like their escape routes blocked. If you are between the shark and the open ocean calmly move in the opposite direction to the shark giving it room to head back into deeper water. Once it has passed you. Then head for shore, stay calm.
  3. There is a belief that splashing, slapping, punching gouging at the shark or slapping your board, charging the shark, and generally intimidating it, is a good idea. This comes from the fact that these tactics could alter the nature of an attack once an attack has begun. This much is true. HOWEVER this information has become convoluted. If a shark is just cruising past, any of these kinds of behaviours could provoke an attack. So unless a shark charges you, stay calm, and allow it to pass, do not attempt to intimidate it. Frightened wild animals do not always flee; they may feel compelled to attack to defend themselves. Do not try to frighten a shark, unless an attack situation is imminent.
  4. Refrain from telling yourself, ah it's just a shark, sharks really aren't interested in humans. It is my opinion that such a belief system is none too bright. I don't know when exactly it crept into surfing mythology, but that attitude certainly wasn't around in the old days. Those who have surfed for years know exactly what sharks are, and just how unpredictable they can be. We tend to respect them for what they are, and do our best to not disturb them. It is a fact of life in the ocean that sharks, can, do, and at times will attack humans. It is fairly a rare occurrence, but it is a reality also. To believe and teach otherwise, and pretend it's not so, is to place yourself and others in unnecessary danger. Be aware, accept reality, and chances are you'll be just fine.

There are many opinions about sharks from many well meaning people, some experts, some not. I am not an expert, these are just my observations. The reality is until a shark walks up the beach sits down and tells us its intentions, we simply cannot know. So until then accept reality, they may have a go at you. If you are deliberately ignorant, unaware and unprepared, you have more chance of freaking out and doing something that could put you harm's way. Rather than surviving to tell your mates about your close encounter. This does not mean that victims are to blame; it simply means it's best to be aware.

This is my personal experience. I have had far too many close encounters with sharks over the last forty odd years to mention here. But I will say this, the vast majority, appeared innocent and benign enough. Yet I have also seen a four metre Tiger Shark lift its head out of the water, mouth agape and have a really good long look at Yoko (my wife) from behind while she was talking to me in the surf. I'll tell you, time stood still for a few seconds then. I have had more than one massive Great White sit right underneath me, only to leave in a flash and then return just as quick. I have had my board bumped numerous times by sharks. I have been charged by a Bull Shark, in knee deep water at The Pass while teaching a mate to surf. I actually had to turn the damn thing away with my board or I suspect it would have had my leg or my mate, if it got past me, it meant business it was an attack situation. I have survived these encounters without physical damage and hope to survive any more if they happen. I accept that sharks are sharks, that they are not my cuddle buddies, and that they do often come to visit us for a bit of look around,.