Facts About Shark Attacks and Shark Snacks

I've always been afraid of the ocean. Whenever I'm at the beach, I only go in up to my knees. Anything beyond that, and sharks are there waiting for me.

"What about jellyfish?" people ask smugly. "Aren't you worried about jellyfish?"

No, because no one ever made a movie about a killer jellyfish terrorizing a small coastal town at the peak of tourist season.

But a shark might try to flop up and try to eat me if I'm in water deeper than two feet.

I remember an old "Far Side" cartoon where a woman was on the beach, telling a police officer about her missing husband: "Well, it just sort of wriggled its way up the beach, grabbed Jonathan, and dragged him back again. I mean the poor thing must have been half-starved."

So don't tell me it can't happen, because clearly, it can.

A few friends love going into the ocean to surf, which is the craziest thing anyone can do, short of leaping into an active volcano. At least nothing will eat me in the volcano.

These friends, who are all surfers, tell me, "Oh, the dangers of a shark attack are very remote. They'll leave you alone if you leave them alone."

I highly doubt it. Shark movies are not about people who leave sharks alone. And they're not about two rivals training for a boxing revenge match in Russia because the shark killed the other guy's friend.

Shark movies are about pre-historic eating machines that think the summer season is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.

Then they tell me, "But there aren't as many sharks around here as there are up in New Smyrna." (New Smyrna has some of the highest occurrences of shark attacks in Florida.)

Maybe, but I noticed you didn't say "there aren't any sharks," just fewer sharks. When you're being gnawed on by a bull shark, it doesn't matter if there are five or 500 sharks in the water. You're still having a bad day.

"They're more afraid of you than you are of them."

Wanna bet? You have no idea how terrified I am.

WFTV, Orlando's ABC affiliate, recently shared a story about shark facts, shark attacks, and why sharks like people snacks. The story was supposed to allay our fears, but they only made it worse.

"For sharks, anyone can become bait," they said, confirming what I knew all along. "Especially you, tubby. Maybe you should stay in Nebraska."

Then they said, "But there are activities and even clothing articles that can make you more prone to a shark bite."

They even cited some helpful statistics on shark attacks — or as I call them, "SEE? SEE? I TOLD YOU!" — from the Florida Museum's International Shark Attack File (ISAF).

For one thing, says ISAF, you're more likely to die from an alligator attack than a shark attack. In the Southeastern United States, there were 391 alligator attacks and 18 fatalities in 2006, but 592 shark attacks and 9 fatalities and now I never want to go in a lake in the Southeastern United States.

Or go in the Southeastern United States in general.

Lightning is more dangerous than sharks, says ISAF. In fact, between 1959 and 2010, there were 1,970 lightning fatalities and only — only! — 26 shark deaths.

The documentary, Sharknado, has clearly shown this to be false.

And, says ISAF, you're more likely to be in a boating accident in Florida than be attacked by a shark. From 2002 to 2013, there were 8,979 boating accidents compared to 261 shark attacks.

Nobody has made a movie about boating accidents either, except for The Poseidon Adventure, and most of the dead people were probably eaten by sharks anyway.

But if you still insist on swimming in the ocean and not a nice Midwestern swimming pool, CNN suggests a few ways to protect yourself from becoming yet another shark attack statistic.

First, act big, because sharks "respect size and strength." So your best defense against an attack is to do CrossFit and ask it, "Bro, do you even lift?"

Excessive splashing can draw a shark's attention, so try to swim smoothly and evenly. But if you do get attacked, you're supposed to thrash around and not play dead. That only works on bears.

If a shark does attack you, you're supposed to hit it in the snout to make it let go. Except a group of concerned helicopter moms have begun a campaign to urge swimmers to "use your words, not your fists."

Avoid swimming between dawn and dusk, because that's when sharks are most active. Also avoid swimming between dusk and dawn, since that's their second-most active time.

And finally, as WFTV recommends, always swim near a lifeguard.

Because you can poke the lifeguard with a speargun and make your getaway while the shark eats them.

Photo credit: TravelBag.co.uk (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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