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Sunday, August 18, 2019
Images by UWE JACOBS (Denmark)

Are sharks “friendly” creatures, as has become customary in recent years to classify them? Personally speaking, I have encountered quite a few sharks in my life while swimming or diving and never felt a hint of fear. But, quite frankly speaking, I would probably soil my pants with fright if going overboard in waters infested by them and finding myself helplessly afloat, a tiny morsel of bait rather than a strong human being, in a world of vastly superior, unrelenting predators.

Oh, they are certainly picturesque, as they are often called by aesthetes. But are they also “harmless”, as equally often referred to by sharklovers? Let the facts tell the truth. The number of shark attacks on humans has dramatically risen in modern times, from an initial 100 or so certified assaults per decade in the second half of the last century, to 654 in 2000-10. Not accounting for a large dark digit, 70-100 attacks presently take place per annum, with 5-15 deaths. “The reason why unprovoked assaults occur on surfers and divers is mainly because sharks tend to mistake humans for prey,” says an apologetic treatise on the subject. Quite heartening news, that. Just don’t let yourself be mistaken for a seal or the like. Moreover, political correctness now dictates that one should use the terms “shark incidents” or “accidents” instead of attacks.

Whites, Tigers, Bulls – take your choice
Protagonist of such incidents is primarily the Great White, which grows to more than seven metres in length, although Tigers, up to six metres long and weighing three tonnes, apparently, play a leading role too. People in the know consider Tigers even more threatening. The difference between the two is that the White seems to be gourmet, whereas the Tiger is not. The former sometimes spits out its mutilated booty, perhaps because it doesn’t taste like the expected seal, and the victims have a slim chance of survival then. After a successful hunt, Whities can also subsist for a long time without food, unless, of course, a thrill-seeking tourist offers himself as a handy snack. Tigers, by contrast, just gorge everything down, such as in the case of a young US kiter in North Carolina (2014) who had lost his board and was dragged through the water behind his parachute. The Tiger apparently took him for a huge marine bird, its favourite prey. Snap – gone he was. Bull sharks, as their name implies, are similarly inclined. Fifty percent of all human losses are said to be caused by them. Still, worldwide casualties are absolutely diminutive. False alarm, then? Those who didn’t have to perish, but donated an arm or a leg, will look at the matter from a different angle than the shark-lovers.

Beware the hungry females!
The coasts of the USA, mainly those of California, Florida and Hawaii, are considered the world’s most risky, as are the waters of Australia and South Africa. The French Indian Ocean island of Réunion has also gained a bad reputation in recent years, with some of its glorious beaches closed to bathers because of an abundance of sharks. The photos accompanying this article were taken around the southern tip of South Africa, whose seas are especially dangerous due to a biological peculiarity. Female Whites cross the entire length of the Indian Ocean to Australia to be fertilized there. The pregnant ladies then return on the same route, desperately hungry, and will attack anything in their path. There is nothing that could be mistaken for a seal on the high seas, since there aren’t any. So, anything goes. Better not get in the way of the half-starved women if you value your life.

Are the predators dying out?
All such warnings should be taken seriously because commercial tourism tends to play down, embellish or totally suppress the facts. A dead surfer or diver is bad for business, mainly if pictures of ghastly mutilations make it into the media. What, then, are the actual risks? Are the sharks growing in numbers? Rather not, although the Tiger, for one, gives birth to up to eighty young at a time. Yet the stocks are mercilessly hunted down by the millions, and be it only for their fins, which will end up in the famous soup. On the other hand, humans on bathing and surfing beaches are on an unending increase. This seems to have made the rounds in the world of sharks. In view of the excessive supply, one brute or the other will readily risk a bite out of this crowd, without hesitating for long whether the prey is a seal or a surfer.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - August 2019 Issue
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