No matter where you surf, there’s probably something dark and ominous lurking in your subconscious before every session. And no, I’m not talking about Alana Blanchard’s potential wardrobe malfunctions (though that’s probably back there somewhere), I’m talking about those big, grey fish swimming beneath us: sharks.
Dealing with shark-paranoia is something that nearly every surfer deals with. From Kelly Slater to Alana Blanchard, we all know the unsettling feeling of sharing the water we love with man-eating beasts. However, as powerful and unpredictable as sharks are, they should truly be one of the last things on our minds while we’re out in the water.
It’s important to recognize that nothing sells better than fear. Shark attacks always make front headlines precisely because they’re so gruesome. But they’re rare. In fact, they’re more than twice as rare as death by falling coconuts. Better yet, Americans are three thousand times more likely to get injured by their own toilets than they are from sharks. Despite these figures, the monstrosity of shark attacks (or even sightings) seems to always find its way into our social media news feeds. What they fail to mention in these inflated, horror film-like stories are the raw statistics that illustrate the true picture.
Here are just a few stats that ought to help you sleep like a baby:
1. The global average of shark attacks is roughly 65 per year. Of those, less than five are fatal.
2. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), there have been just 464 fatal attacks worldwide in the last 500 years.
3. In the past century, only 41 U.S. surfers have been attacked.
4. Spiders, snakes, hippos, deer, cows, horses, bees, and ants are all at least five times more likely to kill you than sharks.
5. For every 1 human killed by a shark approximately 25 million sharks are killed by humans (yikes).
Read those again, slowly. And if reading a list of facts isn’t enough to reassure you, take this into consideration: sharks don’t bite us because humans are actually an alternative food source, rather they mistake us for prey. In other words, sharks aren’t out to get humans. They don’t want to eat us, they just don’t know any better. This explains why so many attacks aren’t fatal. The curious shark takes a bite from our bony limbs and then releases its grip once it registers that we aren’t food. After all, we’re the ones stepping into their territory—splashing around in (often) murky water with our black wetsuits, perched atop seal-shaped boards. Nevertheless, sharks are reduced to menacing monsters while we carelessly deplete their fading populations. Sharks are disappearing at an exponential rate, and while some may be cheering from behind their screens, the fate of the ocean’s health could be in serious jeopardy.
The solution? Apart from stricter fishing regulation and waste reduction, an overall shift in perspective could be the catalyst in preserving the world’s shark populations–seeing them not as cold-blooded killers, but as truly majestic and incredible creatures deserving of our respect and awareness. When we surf, swim, or dive, we make an active decision to leave our own habitat and delve into that of the sea. If we can can come to terms with the uncontrollable forces of the ocean and ignore the irrational paranoia of sharks, we’ll be able to better absorb the joy and stoke of being in the water.
So delete your shark-tracking apps. Throw out your old VHS copy of Jaws. Stop watching “Shark Week.” And paddle out with your mind at ease and a big ol’ smile on your face. Isn’t that what it’s all about?