Ask anyone what they are afraid of when they get in the ocean, and thanks to Steven Spielberg and Discovery Channel's Shark Week, many people have the same answer… sharks. Now ask someone who has been in the water with sharks what they would most like to see when they get in the ocean, and I can assure you that many, maybe 9/10 of them, will have the same answer… sharks. So what’s the deal with the disparity? Some people have an irrational and sometimes debilitating fear of sharks (galeophobia) even in swimming pools, while others clamor to get into the water with them (check out this amazing woman, Ocean Ramsey, who freedives with enormous, and supposedly 'man-eating' sharks and wants you to do the same). The contrasting perspectives on sharks are understandable when we look at how they’ve been portrayed in the media, and more so when we take into account how few people have actually seen a shark in its natural habitat. So here’s the shark truth. Sharks are not real monsters.
We have all heard the anecdotal statistics… more people are killed each year by: falling coconuts, falling vending machines, lightning, dogs, deer, taking a selfie, choking on chicken nuggets, hippos, airplane crashes, car crashes, bike crashes, scooter crashes, segway crashes, champagne corks, playing high school football, your tap water being too hot, falling out of bed, autoerotic asphyxiation etc… than by sharks. Now, you’ll say… ‘Well, people are in contact much more frequently with all those things than they are with sharks, so the ratio of people killed by those things to people in contact with them is much lower than that of people killed by sharks to the people who come in contact with sharks.’ I hate (or love, depending on who you are) to break it to you, but just about anytime you get in any ocean, just about anywhere in the world, you’re in their house, and for now at least, they’re probably in the same room as you.
So the next question is, how many people get in the ocean each year? In the US alone, approximately 75 million people visit the ocean every year, and many of them are in the water for more than just one quick dip. And how many of those people are attacked by sharks each year? Just over 1,000. Doing the math? I did it for you. The answer is approximately .0013% of people who get in the ocean are attacked. That’s a smidge over 1/1000th of 1%. And how many of those 1,000 attacks are fatal? Less than 4%. That means that your chances of being killed by a shark if you get in the ocean are a whopping .00005% (and I rounded up). So what's the most dangerous part of diving with sharks? It's the car ride back home, the champagne cork you pop in celebration and the hot shower you take afterwards. God forbid you stop for a selfie.
Sharks are not out to eat anything and everything that crosses their path. In fact they have very discerning palates, and most likely find the taste of human repulsive (what with all the drinking, smoking and junk food) which is why when you hear of a shark attack, the person is never eaten by the shark. Once it’s tasted us, it realizes how little it actually wants to eat the rest and usually leaves. Anyone who dies from a run-in with a shark was almost certainly not eaten, but suffered an unfortunately placed bite and bled to death.
Obviously this doesn’t make the idea of a shark attack less scary, but in reality they are not out to get us, like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and the media in general wants us to believe. Why then, do you ask, do all those movies and media outlets tell us killer sharks are waiting for us in the ocean? Because fear sells. It’s the same reason they want you to fear terrorism (much more likely to kill you than a shark, but still an infinitesimally small probability), the flu (also much more likely to kill you) and everything else they sensationalize for ratings. This is why Shark Week has some of the highest ratings on TV, but please don’t even get me started on Shark Week...
The point is, we have a lot more to be afraid of than sharks, which is one reason why us divers and surfers feel so lucky when we get to see one in the water. I could spend all day explaining to you how lucky I feel to see them, LITERALLY all day, but no amount of preaching on my part will convince you to give sharks a chance. Which is why I’ve asked my good friend from the Galapagos Islands, Diego, fellow diver, surfer and ocean-goer, to share his perspective. I chose him because he is unique amongst my friends… he is the only person I know to have been bitten by a shark. So I interviewed him to find out why he of all people, has chosen to give sharks a chance… Check out Part 2: Interview with a Shark Attack Survivor, to hear his perspective and see graphic photos of this hot surfer dude and his shark bite.