Sharks Are Everywhere! What to Do If You Swim Into One

Cynthia Dermody
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great white shark

Here's some unsettling news about all the shark sightings we keep hearing about ... but allow me to let Marie Levine tell you herself. She's executive director of the Shark Research Institute (SRI), the same group that's sponsoring Shark Week. We chatted this morning because, well, my family is planning a trip to Long Island sometime soon, and now I'm scared s**tless to go into the water. This is what she had to say about that:

"If you are swimming in a healthy ocean, you are swimming with sharks," Levine said. In other words, all these sightings aren't linked to some atypical phenomenon causing an increase in sharks this season. So if I want to swim, I just need to get over it. They are always there.

Even in colder waters. I generally associate warm-ocean places like Australia, California, and Florida with a greater shark risk, and while the predators do prefer temperate waters, they will go anywhere and everywhere for food. Except maybe Antarctica, but especially the beautiful beach in South Hampton, New York, with its glorious waves and endless supply of seashells, where we take the kids every year.

This should be obvious to me by now. Several great white sharks were spotted in far more colder waters a half a day's boat ride to the north and east of the Hamptons in Chatham, Massachusetts, in Cape Cod. Five miles of beach up there remain closed due to sharks circling the area, which is inhabited by thousands of juicy seals. Another beach in Westport, Massachusetts, was closed, too, after a swimmer spotted a 10- to 12-footer in the water last week.

And a six-foot sand shark swam up to the beach at Seaside Park, New Jersey, last Friday, terrifying screaming beach-goers.

The shark was filmed swimming up to the beach before it righted itself and headed back out to the water, reports The Huffington Post. Beach patrol shut down the area for an hour. My first thought was that Snooki must be nearby in a bikini and that MTV was trying to drum up its Jersey Shore ratings again. But then I remembered this was Seaside Park, not Seaside Heights, and discovered that this was not the first sighting of the season. Two previous shark sightings last month forced swimmers out of the water.

The SRI has a bunch of ways to lessen your chances of meeting a shark. The point is, unless we swim in a filthy ocean floating with medical waste, toxic industrial chemicals, and other assorted sludge, the possibility will always exist. Oh, great white. Not swimming is not an option. So the big question is, what do we do if we do bump into a shark?

Aside from the generally accepted recommendation of "getthehellouttathere!", Levine says to keep in mind that while humans are a "potential" food, they have not existed long enough to be sharks' meal of choice. Also, they lack hands, so sometimes they just explore unfamiliar objects with their teeth. Why does this still cease to terrify me.

Levine says, "I try to relax and enjoy this magnificent animal! If a shark appears overly curious, I remain vertical in the water until the shark loses interest, then, keeping my eyes on the shark, exit the water, slowly and calmly."

Other bits of advice:

  • If a shark approaches uncomfortably close, and you happen to be carrying a spear gun, don't attempt to spear it unless you think it's really going to attack you. The shark may simply be curious, and if you respond with aggression, the shark may react the same way.
  • It may seem impossible, but try not to panic. Refrain from excess splashing or making quick, abrupt movements as you work your way out of the water. This suggests an animal in distress, in other words, lunch.
  • If you are bitten and you are wearing a wetsuit, don't remove the suit except to control arterial bleeding. The suit acts as a pressure bandage and restricts the loss of blood.

 

Want all this up close and personal from the shark expert's mouth? Check out the SRI's eBay auction going on right now, where you can bid to have dinner with a marine biologist.

 

Image via hermanusbackpackers/Flickr

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