Two weeks ago, a strange thing happened. A shark attacked someone on our beach.
We didn’t know it’d happened. The first we knew of it was a rescue helicopter rising above the dunes behind our home and speeding north. Helicopters pass by all the time. That part’s not strange. One appearing out of nowhere and lifting from our beach was completely new.
A surfer was mauled in the surf. Blood went everywhere. It was in the water, on the sand, over those who pulled him from the water.
He’d been surfing a break that’s popular to board riders. Apparently our little stretch of sand has one of the longest waves in the west and he’d been enjoying it. A shark was nearby and got him good. It took off a leg. The paramedics worked on him and his blood-emptied body for ages before setting him into a helicopter and sending him to hospital.
That helicopter must’ve snuck onto the beach when we weren’t looking. I never heard it land… but the thwump-thwump sound of its blades taking off made us sit up fast. And it didn’t hang around. Once it was airborne, it tipped forward with clear purpose. We knew something was up. The beach was closed
and the authorities set out to catch the offending shark.
I’ve seen people survive attacks before. A leg gets taken and, as long as medical care arrives quickly, they survive. I thought that once Ben got past the 24hrs he’d be alright.
And the attention turns, as it always does when attacks like these occur, to remove sharks from the ocean. Authorities don’t say that’s what they’re doing, they use sentences like ‘…keeping beaches safe’ or ‘…protecting swimmers and surfers from attacks’ but it’s still the ocean no matter what spin is put on it. Some agree and say the beaches need to be made safe. Others move to protect the sharks and prefer humans to let sharks have their world to their own.
Statistics start to enter into the debate. Everyone says that there are more attacks these days and almost everyone agrees that there are more sharks. That’s fine. There’s more people too.
Frankly, I side with the shark. Don’t get me wrong, I’d hate to be bitten or see someone get attacked but, isn’t it a good sign that part of the ocean is healthy and thriving? Heaven knows, we’ve been the creature known to plunder the ocean for last few centuries! It’s nice to know that one creature is making a comeback from all that!
A large shark was caught and killed where Ben was attacked less than 24hrs later. Big deal. Did they end up catching THE shark that did it or A shark that simply passed by the baits set for sharks and got itself hooked? No one knows. No one is saying. Either way, it doesn’t change anything. One shark being removed from the ocean barely scratches the surface when it comes to numbers. They are in the deep water but they also patrol the shore. We know that. The ocean goes all the way to its end at the beaches around the world. There is no rule that makes sharks stay away from them. That’s a human wish, not natural law.
And then another woman was taken while diving offshore further north just days later. Since 2000, 13 people have been taken by sharks in Western Australia. They make the stats sound alarming but it’s less than a person a year. More people die in WA crossing the street than being taken by a shark! More people die from horses than sharks!
The attacks on people found in free, unprotected waters won’t stop. If the world’s oceans have sharks in them, expect bites to happen. It’s their habitat, not ours. We’re a foreign visitor. We have no natural biological ability to occupy their world. We need special equipment and appliances to spend any time in it… and then yet we expect them to yield when it goes wrong.
Clearly something is messed up… and it’s not with the sharks!
Sharks don’t come ashore and recreate on the land-world. They stay within their boundaries. Human’s don’t do that. They don’t see boundaries. It’s a free-for-all when it comes to human desire, curiosity and consumption!
I wish humans would follow the shark’s example instead of putting themselves first. Firing a bullet into a shark that simply went about his business of surviving doesn’t punish anything or solve the problem. There are sharks out there, ALWAYS out there. One shark’s death is pointless.
I rarely get into the ocean. When I cleaned the hull of my Last Laugh, I’d dive under the boat and do it quickly. I’d make sure I did it in a one knot current and let the clouds of growth and antifoul stream away in one direction (I believe antifoul would repel sharks and mess up the smell of me in the water). I didn’t splash about. When I was done, I’d get out right away. I’ve spent years on the water but only fifteen minutes at a time in it, once a year. I’m alive today and able to tell you this story because of the choices I made. All sailors know where the sharks live. They don’t get into the water. Sailors KNOW sharks exist under their boats. Catching and killing them doesn’t stop the problem. Staying out of the water does. That’s a human issue, not a shark one.
There are alternatives to swimming in the ocean but I won’t go into that, there’s no need, but there are few alternatives to surfing ocean waves. If men and women want natural waves to ride their boards on, then what we have to accept is a certain loss factor as part of it and leave it at that. Let people build memorials and pay their respects to those lost to the sharks but don’t go chasing those hunters down. Just leave them be.
Here’s a view of the beach Ben Gerring was surfing.