Reading the Signs
In an interview with surf legend Wayne Lynch, I asked him about surviving sharks in the 60s to which he stated, “I learned to read the signs, and I don’t mean signs posted on the beach.”
This got me thinking about the shark bite news articles that stated the surfers had been warned and that conditions were poor. Are we worse at being aware of dangerous conditions or simply not care? Or a combination?
Then I thought, "What if shark attack databases included a category called 'preventable', or 'human error', or 'stupidity'?" We have provoked and non provoked, fatal and non fatal (by the way, under non fatal are included attacks with no injury whatsoever, yes, those are recorded). Point being, would it affect our approach to safely entering the ocean if this little titbit of information was subconsciously planted in our minds? If we saw the vast number of shark bites that occurred when someone made a decision to ignore warnings would that 1. Improve our attitudes toward sharks? Would it lead to people reading further to know what those poor conditions were or what the warnings came in the shape of?
The ocean has predators, not only does it have predators, but we’re in an even more vulnerable position in those ocean encounters than with land predators. So what do we do? Preemptively kill everything that can kill us? Or, what about learning how to improve our own self preservation?
Warnings come in different forms. There are the warnings that nature will give you if you are paying attention, and there are warnings that are provided by other humans, such as posting beach signs, sending tweets or other alerts, sirens, or lifeguards literally saying, “Hey, don’t go in there!”
Going through the global shark attack file it will blow your mind how many of the recorded bites occurred after such warnings were heard, seen, and ignored. I’ll give a few examples in a moment.
The other warnings, the ones nature provides, aren’t as obvious, but re still clear to those who have learned to see them. I’m not saying I’m one of those people, I have a ton to learn, but I can tell you that I’m not going to go swimming with a dead whale in the vicinity. SCUBA dive yes, swim, no. Why? That’s a different video.
Wayne lists a few examples, such as, fish shoaling, dawn and dusk, shark sightings, and a sixth sense, a connection with the ocean, something he suspects is lacking the increasing population of people using the ocean.
Enter Chris Lowe’s quote, “We have a growing population with a decreasing ability to access risk”
Of course you don’t have to stay out of the ocean when a shark is spotted, in truth sharks are probably there when they aren’t spotted, so shark presence doesn’t necessarily mean shark threat. And even when there’s a shark bite you don’t have to stay out and you still might be OK
Let’s look at some examples. Wait, before we do that, again, why am I bothering? Well, I am a shark advocate and I would like to see us actually learn how to better coexist with them rather than killing them. I’m not saying sharks don’t bite people and I’m not saying they won’t continue to in the future. I’m saying, that your best chance of not being bitten lies with knowledge, not with baited hooks and indiscriminate nets.
Fish Hoek, South Africa, a fishing town within False Bay and not the best place on the planet in terms of shark bites on humans. In this example, the beach had been closed, the shark warning flag was up, warnings had been issued, and the guy went in anyway. At the time of the bite the victim was the only person in the water.
I’m not going to say the names of the victims in this video, but I have provided links to the incidences if you want to look into them yourself. I provide both a news article and the Global Shark Attack File report as a cross reference.
Global Shark Attack File
Next, Hawaii, a kayak fishermen has his leg bitten while dangling his feet in the water while fishing in waters known to have many tiger sharks AND he and his fellow fishermen were aware that fishing attracts the sharks and makes them more aggressive
Let that sink in.
I mentioned signs provided by nature earlier. Would you consider the fact that the turtles had cleared out of the area as a sign?
Reunion Island, a guy gets in where water sports are banned because of shark bites and after being warned
Or this guy who, along with his friends, saw a shark and decided to risk staying out, and gets bitten. THEN, another guy, who heard about that incident gets in anyway and is bitten 7 hours later. Turns out there was a dead whale in the area leaking the ultimate shark dinner bell, but no one knew yet. Which brings up a provoking question; even if no one else has issued a warning, if you are going to enter an active ecosystem and don’t want to be bitten, is it not in your best interest to investigate those conditions yourself? Sounds like in this case these guys were the type who might have gotten in anyway, which, they have the right to do, and neither of them is calling for the death of sharks. BUT, these are recorded in the shark bite database and provide fuel for those who want to kill sharks.
Examples 4 and 5
Or the guys who got in knowing a shark was in the vicinity. The second guy got in knowing the first guy had been bitten 7 hours earlier.
I could go on with those sorts of examples all day. Let’s move on to other forms of fucking up.
Boy sticks finger in captive shark’s mouth after repeatedly being told not to. Boy gets cut. Incident is recorded as a shark bite. They were nice enough to put it in the provoked category, but unless you’re going to read the details, it’s just another number added to the list of shark attacks on file. On that topic, just in case you didn’t know, also padding the stats are events when fishermen are bitten while shark fishing. Meaning that a shark, fighting for its life, manages to get hold of the creature that inflicted the harm upon it first, and now is listed as a shark attack.
How about this ass clown who shoots a shark then the shark retaliates? Guess what, that’s in the shark attack database.
And then you have people who are bitten as a result of other people’s actions.
Such as Tathra, New South Wales, 2014, illegal shark fishing leads to a woman who had been swimming in the area for 14 years without incident to lose her life. Has anything happened to the illegal fishermen? No. Are they culling sharks in New South Wales? Yes.
A similar story back in the United States occurs when a fisherman illegally hooks a white shark and fights it for 40 minutes at Manhattan Beach Pier place known for surfers sharing water with juvenile white sharks without an incident EVER until an animal fighting for its life ends up running into a swimmer.
Again, I’m not saying sharks don’t bite people, I’m asking you to look at the results of our own choices and our own behavior. No matter what the circumstances, it’s chalked up as a shark attack. We can choose violence and vengeance or we can actually learn how to survive.
Video footage and photos by Skyler Thomas and Andy Dellios or taken from published news articles.
Links to shirt shown in video
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About the Author
Skyler Thomas is the primary blog contributor, cinematographer, and lead editor at White Shark Video.