Sharks, Snorkels, Elephants & Vending Machines
So what’s the connection? I’m so glad you asked… Would you believe that more people are killed each year by elephants than by sharks? Never mind the pugnacious pachyderms, the next time your favorite beverage clatters down the delivery chute of that drink machine just remember that many more people are also killed each year by vending machines than by shark attack. If you are an avid snorkeler like me, any real or imagined danger needs to be carefully evaluated before making decisions about venturing anywhere near the ocean.
As well as being just plain fascinating, the study of shark behavior is by far the most effective way of staying safe while still enjoying all that the sport of snorkeling has to offer. What we do know is that almost 100% of shark bites are the result of curiosity or mistaken identity. The evidence to support this is the fact that most attacks consist of a single bite. Once the shark realizes what it’s bitten, it almost always releases the victim and immediately swims away. However, even a tentative nip from a curious shark can lacerate or even remove a substantial amount of flesh and bone. Obviously the best defense is to make sure we take appropriate steps to prevent this from happening in the first place.
Sharks are fish and consequently behave like fish. Any fisherman worth his salt will tell you that early morning and late afternoons are the two best times to fish for coastal species. Many predatory fish species use this regular ‘change of light’ as a prime hunting opportunity. Cloudy water caused by rain or rough seas also stimulates the feeding response and is a great time to wet a line for a feed of fresh fish. Experienced anglers never fish in the middle of the day or when the water is as clear as polished glass because the fish are just too timid… and so are the sharks. That’s right; sharks are timid and are very difficult to approach either with snorkel or SCUBA gear. We need to remember that of the four hundred species of shark around the world only four have ever been known to cause human fatalities.
With the myriad of human interaction within the ocean one group, the ‘surfers’ tend to put themselves in the most danger of attack by surfing early morning, late afternoon and in murky water stirred up by the same rough weather that produces their favored big waves. We snorkelers are much better off as we tend to stick to the strong daylight hours. We also automatically stay away from murky water because poor visibility takes all the enjoyment out of our sport. In well lit clear water the chance of a wild shark approaching a snorkeler is ridiculously small. Obviously in areas where there is regular feeding and contact you can expect them to be less shy but still not aggressive. Generally speaking, sharks are very afraid of humans.
The handful of human shark fatalities each year pales into insignificance compared to the one hundred million sharks butchered by humans each and every year mostly for the barbaric shark fin soup industry throughout Asia. You don’t need to be Charles Darwin to understand how taking this many apex predators out of the ocean will very soon start to dramatically affect an eco system that feeds more than half the world. New snorkelers often ask me what they should do if they see a shark. My answer is always, ‘take a picture of it. They won’t be around of much longer.’