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Don’t stop swimming because of sexy shark attacks

Shark Attack!

A surfer was attacked by a shark at Avoca Beach on the Central Coast this week. Aerial patrols have since spotted several sharks in the area “aggressively’ chasing schools of fish. The result was massive media hysteria in the newspapers, on the television news and on the radio. For what? An “attack’ that didn’t even require stitches and was the equivalent of a mild dog bite?

So what’s the big deal? Well, sharks are sexy and a good sell. We’re all afraid of them and when it comes to fear factor, they’re hard to beat. Two people drowned in rip currents over the holidays, but it barely rated a mention. Rips aren’t sexy.

So let’s talk about the so called shark problem because many of you are probably ocean swimmers or about to become one. And let’s face it, long distance ocean swimming on a glorious sunny day is a fantastic experience until you suddenly see that shadow play on the bottom. It’s probably a cloud, but then again, it could be aó_Great White!

I know it’s hard to believe, but sharks live in the ocean. It’s their domain and we’re just another source of food to them. There’s no aggressive and malevolent attacks or man-eating sharks out there, just big fish looking for a quick meal. And most shark attacks consist of a single bite, because the shark realizes pretty quickly that were not a great source of meat and moves on. Yes, many of those bites can be horrific, but many of them are minor and the chances of it happening to you are minuscule, even if you swim in the ocean every day for the remainder of your life. The odds are well in your favour.

Records on shark attacks in Australia have been documented for a long time, tracing back to the 1700’s. Since that time, an estimated 877 attacks have occurred, of which 25% (215) have been fatal. But in more recent times, shark nets have been introduced offshore and in the last 50 years, there have been 52 fatalities due to shark bites. That’s an average of 1.04 per year.

Purple dye highlights a Rip Current at Tamarama

Let’s put this in perspective, on average about 87 people drown along our coast each year due to various reasons, mostly rip currents. Seems to me there’s a lot more to worry about than sharks.

So I hate to blow the Jaws bubble that we all have lodged in our heads, but sharks just aren’t something we need to worry about too much. Enjoy your swim and get those images of thrashing red water out of your head. But if you do see a shark zooming in for the kill, attack it first. They’re not used to it. That’s my theory anyway.

Rob Brander

Rob Brander

Dr Rob Brander is a coastal geomorphologist at the UNSW in Sydney.

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