How dangerous is surfing in New Zealand
NA HOW DO YOU BITE? WHAT SURFERS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SHARK ATTACKS
These are questions that especially inexperienced surfers keep on worrying.
I also get it again and again when I return from my surf trips. Be it from Cape Verde, Brazil or the Canary Islands.
Had I seen a shark and whether it wasn't insanely dangerous to go surfing in the shark-infested waters of the tropics?
I never had a really convincing answer to these questions.
My attitude towards shark attacks mostly fluctuated between ignorance and ignorance or was based on vague hints from locals and reports that I had picked up here and there in surf magazines.
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How (un) likely are shark attacks on surfers really?
In order to get to the bottom of these questions, I have read everything in my hands on the subject over the past few weeks. And believe me, there is a lot to read about it.
After all, I have everyone for Surfer relevant facts picked out and packed into this post.
And even if the subject of shark attacks always causes excitement among us surfers, I want to look at it as objectively and soberly as possible. I will neither let myself be carried away to exaggerations nor to trivializations - I promise!
So then, let's go:
Shark attacks on surfers are rare, but when they do occur they are mostly severe and sometimes even fatal injuries the consequence.
The media coverage and the resulting hysteria after shark accidents are in no relation to the actual number of shark attacks.
A total of 492 people have been killed by shark attacks worldwide since the systematic recording began.
I was surprised by the relatively high number of shark attacks in Europe, where the sharks have already struck 49 times. Including some incidents in France and even in England. The last attack, however, was a long time ago and occurred in Croatia in 1974.
Source: International Shark Attack File
Overall, the number of shark attacks worldwide is anything but alarming. With over 40 million surfers and swimmers a year, there are an average of 65 shark accidents, of which an average of around 5 are fatal each year.
The widespread shark hysteria can also be explained by the fact that public risk awareness is strongly influenced by television, newspapers and the Internet. Incidentally, this applies not only to the shark topic, which is very popular in the media, but also to all other areas of life.
The fact is that the general perception of danger has little to do with that actual risk.
A look at the statistical figures will help here.
Shark or ant: who is more dangerous?
Which halfway clear-thinking person is more afraid of? Ants or Cows than before Sharks?
When it comes to bare statistics, one really has to agree that such supposed fearful rabbits are right.
Because if you look closely, four times as many people die every year from cow attacks than from shark attacks. And the probability of falling victim to a horde of ants is statistically six times as high as the chance of being hunted by a shark.
The fear of sharks that is widespread among surfers is understandable and I have to admit that it comes over me every now and then. When I sit in the lineup on my surfboard, it is sometimes enough to watch a school of small fish fearfully jump out of the water to let my eyes scan the surrounding ocean surface in a panic.
It is probably in the nature of fear that it is often irrational and can hardly be dispelled by saying facts.
But maybe it is also because there are a lot of prejudices on the subject.
The most persistent prejudices
So why do sharks now and then attack humans?
There are various hypotheses on this, but they are scientifically very controversial.
In fact, the reasons for shark attacks are largely unexplained. Nevertheless, every surfer thinks they know them. So it's high time to talk to the four most persistent prejudices to clean up.
During the shark hunting season, shark attacks happen in the early morning or late evening hours when the sun is low
That's exactly how I've heard it before, but observations over the past 100 years say otherwise. According to the international shark attack database, great white sharks prefer to walk between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the hunt. At least when human victims are involved.
An ongoing study on shark attacks in Hawaii also comes to the preliminary conclusion that a very early or late time of day is of little importance when it comes to the voracity of sharks in relation to humans.
The researchers documented the period between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. as the most common time of day for shark attacks.
You are more likely to be hit by a falling coconut than to fall victim to a shark attack
Probably that's even true, but I think the comparison lags tremendously. Because while you can easily prevent the crash with a coconut, you will not be able to actively influence unwanted shark contact.
On the beach you can also make yourself comfortable next to instead of under a coconut palm, but for the shark it makes no difference whether your legs dangle a few meters further to the right or left in the water.
Sharks prefer to attack in murky water with little depth of view
That's what I always thought, but here, too, the numbers say the exact opposite. I can understand very well that cloudy water in shark areas makes surfers feel uncomfortable.
Estuaries in particular, which often carry cloudy water, are popular hunting grounds for sharks. But observations from the University of Hawaii show that the greater number of shark attacks occur in crystal clear water.
The number one cause of shark attacks is confusion
Sharks think people on a surfboard are prey, because in the backlight the silhouette of surfers resembles that of Sea turtles or seals. Sounds obvious, but it cannot be scientifically proven.
On the contrary: Sharks are considered to be the perfect hunters of the ocean and have very fine sensory organs that make confusion very unlikely. Seen from below, a surfer resembles a seal, but sharks are extremely careful when choosing their prey. Apparently a paddling surfer sends out enough signals to trigger a kind of test bite in hungry sharks.
After the first bite, sharks move away from their prey. The suspicion that they seem to spurn their catch is wrong. Rather, this behavior can be explained with the caution of sharks. At least that's what researchers at the University of Hawaii say. Sharks usually retreat first to wait for the victim to die. In doing so, they reduce the risk of being injured even if the victim struggles to survive.
At the same time, scientists agree that there is no species of shark that specializes in humans as prey. Otherwise no surfer beach would be safe anymore.
In any case, the process of a shark attack seems to be much more complicated than a simple mix-up and must be investigated further before we can clarify this.
The best strategies against shark attacks
Staying out of shark areas is arguably the safest way to avoid ending up on sharks' menus.
Sharks are very picky about their hunting grounds. So a good avoidance strategy is not to surf on beaches where shark attacks have already occurred.
My favorite book on hazard prevention on surf trips offers a quick overview of particularly risky surf spots:
The Surftrip Survival Guide
You can find them in there too Top 5 the most dangerous surf spot in terms of shark alarm:
1) Florida // New Smyrna Beach with 98 attacks
2) Florida // Ponce Inlet with 24 attacks
3) South Africa // Nahoon Reef with 15 attacks
4) Brazil // Recife with 12 attacks
2) Florida // Jupiter Beach with 10 attacks
So you're doing yourself a big favor by leaving your surfboard on your next trip to Florida better.
Electric shark shields
In Australia, many surfers now use devices that send out electrical impulses. The shark's sensitive nervous system is said to respond and prevent shark attacks.
The research team of Dr. Meyer could not confirm in a test that it works. The device was hung in the water next to a bait and yet the sharks headed straight for it and made short work of it.
Australian scientists have developed specially patterned surf suits that are supposed to make a surfer invisible to sharks in the water. A second striped variant resembles the pattern of a zebra and is intended to visually confuse the shark shortly before the attack.
Whether this tactic really works remains questionable. For the time being, I will continue to use a classic wetsuit for my surf trips.
What to do in the event of a shark attack?
If you should get caught despite the really small chance and out of the blue you find yourself in close combat with the gray hunter, you should have a plan ready.
As I said, sharks are the perfect hunters. If they chose you as their victim, frankly, your chances of escaping are not the greatest. Still, there are a few rules that you should keep in mind:
Look him in the eye, little one!
In order to defend yourself against a shark, you need to know where it is. So keep an eye on the animal even if you are planning your escape.
Paddling away hectically is not a good thing!
You can't escape a shark in the water. Therefore, fleeing quickly is not an option unless you are in close proximity to the beach, reef, or a boat. Wild paddling will only add to the shark's attention to you. It's just as silly to play yourself dead. That doesn't deter an interested shark.
Sometimes it is recommended to float vertically in the water. Sharks do not know any animals that adopt this position and therefore act more cautiously. But who has the balls to slide off their board into the water when a shark is heading for them? At least I don't.
Attack is the best defense!
If neither flight nor lethargy represent a promising strategy, all that remains is to reach into the body's own armory:
I keep hearing that the most effective move in marine martial arts against sharks is a targeted hit on the shark's nose. That may be true. Because your greatest chance is that the attacking shark perceives you as a strong, serious opponent.
The already mentioned Surftrip Survival Guide provides an even better defense technique.
According to this, sharks bite their gills when they fight each other - a clear indication of their weakest part of the body.
Apparently, sharks are very sensitive to touch in the area of the gills and are most likely to retreat.
You can find more valuable tips on the subject in the book Haie - Menschen - Treffen.
Die for potency
It is important to me that this does not create the impression that sharks are hideous beasts that only target surfers.
When you consider how many surfers move around the shark hunting grounds every day, the number of accidents is really minimal. Sharks have enough motives to mess with people much more often.
Shark hunting is one of the most unethical ways to get hold of food in the world. Often sharks get caught in drift nets and trawls as bycatch or are only hunted because of their fins, which are considered to increase potency - as in this action on the pier of Santa Maria (Cape Verde), which I unfortunately had to witness at the beginning of 2014:
The vast majority of sharks are completely harmless to humans. And it is majestic animals that play an important role in the natural balance of the oceans.
And have you ever had the pleasure of spotting a shark while surfing? How did you act Do you have any further tips in store to help you get out of the affair if the worst comes to the worst?
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