- Posted November 15, 2013 by
Sharks: It's safer to go back in the water
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
I stood at the back of the catamaran, gazing out over the crystal blue Bahamian sea, listening to the gentle sound of the water lapping at the stern of the boat. I looked down, where I could see a school of small fish swarming behind a grouper. There was no wind to ripple the crisp top of the ocean. It was a perfect day.
Behind me I could hear the clambering of amateur scuba divers wrestling with their equipment. I turned to check on their progress and found myself grinning at the sight. They were a picture of nervousness mixed with excitement, brave explorers preparing to venture into the deep unknown. I would be their guide.
The Bahamas are filled with underwater cliffs and walls shaped over time, creating amazing reefs teeming with life. We floated along the side of the wall, each of us inhaling the views of the foreign abyss in which we were quiet alien visitors.
Tracing our way back to the boat, we hovered above the sand bank at the top of the wall. Giant stingrays fluttered away as we kicked our way back to dry earth. And then, it happened.
While doing routing in-dive checks with my group, I looked beyond them and saw a mammoth Hammerhead shark as she emerged from the rocky cliffs’ edge. I told my group (in sign/scuba language) to kneel on the sand, to stay, and that there was a shark.
Eyes widened and focused on me with laser precision. I likely didn’t need to tell them not to move, it was instinctual. Their attention was locked on me, mine was on the shark. “Look at the shark”, I signed with a chuckled. It would promise to be much more interesting than I.
Together we sat for what couldn’t have been more than 15 seconds as the massive creature calmly drifted by. At the closest point she was about 3 feet in front of me. I spun to check on my students, and out of nowhere there was now a sizable Caribbean Grey reef shark. Unexcited, without concern for our presence, she too glided by.
Back on the boat high-5’s and shrieks of excitement flooded the deck. “I can’t believe we just...” one person began. “Did you see the second one?” another shrilled. One of the women, a petit French lady, said to me in her thick accent “thank goodness you were there”.
If ever in life I was a hero, it was at that day. The gallant leader of the troops, putting myself between my team and the evil jaws of the wicked shark, surely ready to delve out a lashing on this hellish beast should it misbehave and threaten the integrity of my groups safety. Surely I deserved a specially designed wetsuit, laden with markings forewarning these pests of the sea that it was I, human, and I was in charge.
Not so much.
You see the truth is this; Even though I have had many experiences with sharks, I was still terrified. Excited, enamored, amazed, in awe? Yes. But terrified. This animal could have torn me to shreds and sent the rest of the class scrambling just for fun, and still made it to the beach for lunch. But it didn’t.
I felt compelled to write this article because I feel a great sense of sadness when I hear about what is happening to sharks around the world. To hear that these valiant creatures are being drug from the sea and having their fins sliced off, then thrown back in to the water to drown all because a select culture enjoys them in their soup makes my heart sink.
Make no mistake, sharks are in trouble. Many species, most notably those whose fins are highly sought after, have experienced upwards of 70% decline in population. This is very scary.
What’s the big deal? The big deal is that sharks are the epicenter of the ocean. As the high ranking predator in the food chain, they keep the oceanic balance in place. Without them, the ocean would be in disarray, and destined for devastation.
Some hypothesize that the demise of sharks will bring a drastic reduction in the earth’s oxygen, others disagree. Both of those parties are certainly much more informed than I will ever claim to be, but I would venture to say they both agree that our planet would suffer greatly if we continue the way we are.
Some of you may be wondering what my point is. “Oh great”, you may be thinking, “here comes the petition”, you’ll likely sigh.
There is no petition. There’s no call to action. If you were looking for directions to find a “save the sharks” bracelet, I bid you farewell.
There is a mere invitation. An invitation to take a moment to think about, maybe even look at what is going on, and consider your own perception of sharks.
With that, here are some facts:
More people get bitten in New York by New Yorkers each year, than by sharks worldwide.
You are more likely to be injured by your air-freshener, than by a shark (though I suspect the ominous theme music from jaws would have been slightly less daunting featuring a lavender scented piece of paper chasing someone through the house).
60 times more people are killed by erotic asphyxiation each year than by sharks (Umm....).
In fact, you are more likely to die from all of the following: Falling out of bed. Falling coconuts. Falling down the stairs. Lightning. Roller-coasters. Vending machines. Bathtubs. Dogs. Ants. Bees. Deer. As you can imagine, the list goes on and on.
By far the most prevalent thing that is much more likely to kill you than a shark, is... A human!
Let’s not even begin to try and compare the statistical chances of you being hurt by another of your own kind than by a shark, we’ll just say it’s a lot.
It seems almost comical to me that not only are we the biggest threat to ourselves, but that we are also the biggest threat to these antiquus beings that have been navigating this planet for over 400 million years. What is our problem?
I asked one of my closest friends, Mateo, who teaches diving in South Florida, what he thought about his shark encounters. He beautifully described the fear and nerve rattling experience that it is to swim with sharks, but his greatly earned wisdom came down to one important thing: Respect.
It seems obvious to me that as a race we have a distinct lack of respect for each other. This is tragic. But it’s enough that we are punishing our own living space, and each other, let’s leave the sharks out of it.
Only a few months after the shark encounter in the Bahamas, I was in Florida. I noticed a crowd gathered at the marina where I was working. I pushed my way to the front to see what all the commotion was about. There lay a hammerhead shark, freshly fished from the Gulf and sprawled on the ground as a prize.
A little girl standing next to me asked her mother what kind of shark it was. “It’s a man eating shark”, she replied. I couldn’t be upset with her. After all, that was her perception, and now she was shaping her young to recognize the same inherent threat.
Do sharks bite? Yes. Are sharks scary? Hell yes. Are you going to get attacked by a shark? Probably not. Would coming face to face with one be one the list of the coolest things you could ever do? Most definitely.
While sharks are scary, they are misjudged. I for one would rather be in the water with them than on land with the real killers. You can bet your tail fin to Chinatown I would.