Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water—Part II

Maybe if we threw them a lawyer, they’d calm down—Australia seems to be to be an odd place for people to live. Most of their reptiles are very venomous, they have a common spider that can kill you, and half the stuff swimming in the oceans around it will either eat you, poison you, or give you a really, really bad day with a sting. Having good beer is no excuse.

Don’t try swimming there too soon. About 100 sharks (species unknown) have been holding a shark orgy—actually a feeding frenzy—off the tourist-heavy Gold Coast of Queensland, forcing the authorities to close the beaches. [also click headline] The sharks appear to be getting very excited about bait fish in the area. I’m not sure what “bait fish” are in this context, but apparently the sharks know. According to one authority, when sharks are in a frenzy, they just close their eyes and chomp. You could be what they chomp on so the beaches are closed. One guy, simply wading, got hit, fortunately for him, by a small shark who apparently wasn't doing well in the frenzy. Last month a Brisbane woman was killed by a bull shark.

Actually, sharks are in the news a lot this week. According to report from the University of Florida shark attacks are declining for an interesting reason: some people being attacked fight back. According to George Burgess at the International Shark Attack File, there were 58 shark attacks worldwide in 2005, down from 65 the year before. Fatalities fell from 7 to 4. Most of the victims are surfers. Some of the decline is due to the decline in the population of sharks, and some is because growing numbers of people are bright enough to avoid shark-infested waters, but Burgess says meeting a shark attack with aggression actually works and may account for some of the decrease, although the numbers involved can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. The sharks are interested in lunch, not a fight. Most sharks respect size and power. The best punch? One in the nose. In other words: an in-your-face defense. One surfer in Oregon was attacked by a great white and popped it on the nose. The great big, fierce old shark retreated.

“That gentleman did precisely what he should do under those circumstances,” Burgess said. “A person who is under attack should act aggressively toward the shark and not follow the advice given to women who are having their purses snatched in New York City, which is to lie on the ground, play dead and give up the purse.”

The decline represents a five-year trend, the researchers say.

And the sharks their worst public relations agent this week with the sad death of Peter Benchley, who died at the age of 65. Benchley wrote Jaws, which gave sharks a bad name for a generation. Maybe the Australian sharks are celebrating. What do you expect. They are sharks. Benchley's book, of course, was premised on the notion that you don't fight back. You scream and die.

[Photo: copyright Steve Drogin]

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