Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yet Another Shark Attack Blog

Hello again everyone. Well by now you've probably heard the news that a 19 year old was bitten by a shark and died from blood loss in Australia recently. For those of you who have read any of my previous shark attack blogs, you'll probably find a lot of this as a repeat, but for those of you who haven't, which judging by the large increase of traffic here, this could potentially give you a new view on sharks and their relations with swimmers and surfers. As my usual disclaimer for these blogs, well here it is. I find it sad that this 19 year old has passed away after being bitten by a shark. I am also saddened by the fact that the media is once again blowing the incident up to make the shark look like something it is not, a monster.

When you look at a shark, chances are the first thing that you will be drawn to is it's teeth. You know, those really sharp pointy things in their mouth. Clearly many species of shark have teeth that could very easily do a heavy amount of damage to human flesh. Looking at the below picture of the mouth of a sand tiger shark I'm sure will prove my point here.

So first of all why do some species of shark have these sharp teeth? To find the answer to that you will have to look at the natural diet of the animal. In the case of the sand tiger shark shown above, their natural prey consists of tough bony fish. These fish have very tough skin, so the shark has narrow, yet sharp teeth to grab and hold onto the fish. Other sharks, like the white shark (seen below) have thicker, but still very sharp teeth to grab and tear larger prey such as seals.

Now take a quick second to think about the human body. We do not have any large amount of protective blubber or thick scales to protect us from things such as shark teeth. Our skin, and muscle for that matter, is very fragile no matter how you look at it. (Paper can cut us. Enough said) So when a shark that has an incredible bite force bites us it is basically the same as us biting into a soft ice cream cone. It goes right through with virtually no effort. Now that we know why shark bites do so much damage to us, lets look at why a shark may bite a human.

The most obvious reason that a shark may bite a human is in it's own defense. Often times fisherman get bit by sharks. One can probably understand that an animal who has gotten hooked in the mouth and possibly shot would not be the happiest camper and when you have teeth like a shark does, you use them. Or if a bottom dwelling shark is just resting on the bottom and a person steps on it, it is probably easy to understand why the shark would be a little upset. Those are what I like to call instances of self defense.

Another reason that sharks will bite people is because, much like humans, sharks are curious animals. They do not know what everything in the ocean is. Often times when a shark bites a person it is an exploratory bite with no intent to injure at all. How can that be you ask? Well unlike humans, the sense of touch for a shark is located in their mouths, so how these animals get a feel for something is to nibble it. This is why you always here of sharks nibbling on boat rudders or gently biting the back of a boat with no apparent malicious intent. Now, in my opinion the majority of times a shark bites a person (unprovoked) is a result of an instance of a case of mistaken identity. I'll break that down a bit more cause it can be a tad confusing.

Ok so first of all take a look at the two pictures above. The top is a sea lion surfing and the bottom is a human body surfing. At first glance of course we can tell the difference between the two. So take a closer look. The human is flat on his belly just like the sea lion with his head out of the water. Both the sea lion and the human are actively swimming and sending vibrations through the water that sharks can pick up on. The human has his body generally in a straight line with the exception of his arms that are probably moving as he swims. The sea lion is in that exact same pose. So pretend you are under the surface. The murky deep. It's dark and you see a shadow at the surface of an area where you know you have caught your dinner before. If you are a hungry shark do you really think for a moment that what you are about to bite is not what you have bitten time and time again? So you make your approach and before it is clear that what you are about to bite is not what you originally thought it was, you roll your eyes back to protect them from the obvious protest you are about to get from that animal. You bite, but realize what you have bitten is not what you think it was. Here's where things get interesting. The shark vanishes. Very, and I mean very rarely does a shark come back for a second bite once it realizes what it has bitten was not a food item.

What happened in that scenario, what I believe to be the most common scenario between bathers and sharks is a case of mistaken identity. The shark mistook the body surfer for a sea lion, realized it's error the moment it tasted the human and left and did not return to maul, maim, or eat the human. Simply put sharks do not naturally eat humans! The same scenario plays out for surfers as well, but it is even easier to see. You have a long body (the board), two flippers towards the front (arms), and two at the back (legs). Sounds familiar right?

From underneath it looks shockingly like this to a shark.

Another thing to keep in mind when you see the words shark attack flash across your t.v. screen is just how rare these incidents are. According to the International Shark Attack File, in 2012 there were 80 unprovoked incidents of a shark biting a human worldwide. Now think about the times you've gone to the beach and the amount of people you've seen go in the water. Now think of that on a global scale and you can get an idea just how rare these incidents are. Another thing to think about is that 80 is really not a large number at all when you look at large animal negative interactions with people. One example I love to share is that in the U.S. alone, roughly 22 people are killed by cows. In one year there is an average of less than 1 person being killed by a shark in the U.S.. Another example is the amount of people who are killed annually by hippos in Africa. That number is a whopping 2,900 every year. That is far higher than the 80 that you may think is so high. Realistically sharks are one of the last things animal wise that people should be worried about being killed by. Mosquitos, spiders, hippos, cows, horses, domestic dogs, deer, ants, and bees all kill more people annually than sharks.

Hopefully these statistics, thoughts, and other facts have helped you to come to the conclusion that sharks really are not all that bad and that when they do bite a person, there intent is not to kill and if it initially was, that intent goes away the moment the animal bites. I'll leave you all with one final statistic that regular readers of this blog I'm sure know by now. While 2012 may have seen 80 people die from loss of blood from a shark bite, at least 100,000,000 (yes one hundred million) sharks were killed by humans. Sharks are killed largely for their fins which are used in shark fin soup. The fin itself is tasteless and does nothing but add texture and mercury to the chicken or beef flavored soup. If you want to learn more about shark finning take a look in my blog archive. There are plenty of blogs about it and there will be plenty more to come about it as well. Or you can always google shark finning and learn about it! Actually, I'm a nice guy. Let me take care of that for you. I hope all is well with everyone. Thank you for reading and remember when you see shark attacks on T.V. think about the circumstances and do not just jump to conclusions as the media does to get a juicy story.

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