5 Dumb Ways People At The Beach React To Sharks
North Carolina has been experiencing a bit of a shark problem this summer. And because I'm always down to bring the ruckus, I took a week-long trip to an N.C. beach recently. If sharks want a piece of me, they're going to have to rip me from the cold mouths of other sharks. I will not go non-shark-punchingly into that good night.
As you can tell from this column being written, I didn't get the chance to brawl with multiple sharks. But I did get to witness what a town acts like when everyone thinks that they're going to become the Kintner boy in Jaws. As it turns out, the fear of being eaten brings out the dumb in people.
No One Knows Anything About Sharks
I know just enough about sharks to hear someone's conspiracy theory about how to avoid shark bites and think, "That's probably bullshit, and if it isn't, it's too insane for me to comprehend." Thankfully for this entry, a lack of knowing didn't stop most people from "knowing." I'm also going to leave out social media's reaction to these attacks, which was, to an overwhelming extent, "Abandon all hope, ye who want to go on vacation."
Laugh it up, idiots. You're all going to die.
The first tip that I heard was, "Sharks won't attack you if you've got your legs covered. They're attracted to the paleness." If I wasn't aware of how my own body looks, I would've taken this as an insult from the man dispensing shark trivia like the elevator was a party and he needed to break the ice. But I know that I'm a toothpaste creature of mayonnaise and snow. If someone calls me pale, it's because they simply have to. Calling me anything else makes it seem like you're trying to sleep with me.
The advice was the most solid that I received on the entire trip. Sharks are attracted to high-contrast colors, and to them, pale, freckled legs amid murky waters are potentially a delicious buffet.
The next advice I received was: "Sharks can't navigate waves, so stay where the waves are." This idea suggests that sharks do not like the ocean. The ocean is waves. If I had listened to the person who said that any longer, I'm sure they would've followed that wisdom with, "And if you meet any bears, run into the forest. The leaves will confuse their senses and they'll explode to death."
"Hello, my name is-" *KABOOM*
In this cavalcade of instruction, I also learned that the breast stroke is a stroke that attracts less sharks because it looks less frantic. This might work, unless you're 99 percent of people swimming in the ocean, where any swimming style you use is going to look like you're trying to win a game of underwater charades with the prompt "falling down the stairs." And it isn't really advice, but I did hear someone talking about learning how to ride with sharks like it was as simple as getting your learner's permit. I don't mean to shatter your confidence, own-a-boat-guy-in-stupid-sunglasses, but approaching a wave of shark-related incidents with the mindset of "It's OK, because I could easily mount them. And with my simple words in your brain, so could you" is barely helping. Announcing yourself to be the reincarnation of glorious SharkJesus just gives the group around you the impetus to drink faster.
No One Knows If They Should Treat It Like A Tragedy
Before I left, I packed a shirt with "HULKAMANIA" written on it, so that I could wear it on the beach and not have to go through the trouble of explicitly telling everyone that I was runnin' wild on them. Then, audio of Hulk Hogan leaking idiocy from every orifice was released, and I decided that it would be in poor taste to represent the guy, despite all the good that he's done for the leg-drop industry. I tell you this because, while at the beach, I found people facing a moral dilemma when it came to purchasing shark merchandise. They couldn't decide whether or not it was ethically wrong to have a bloody shark emblazoned on their chests.
Wings is a pretty popular surf shop chain on the North Carolina coast. There were two locations within a tenth of a mile of each other at the beach I was visiting, which really helped when I got the scavenger hunt request of "Buy a little bell with 'RING FOR SEX' written on it at a Wings, and then get a seashell necklace at A DIFFERENT WINGS." They also sell a lot of shark-related stuff, mainly because sharks are the most identifiable fishes in the world. A shirt with the outline of a Spanish mackerel on it would lead to curious questions and disappointing sales/answers. Spanish mackerel enthusiasts go to Wings every year to see if culture has come around for them, and every year, they are let down. Their slog through existence is a lonely one.
Nestled along with the general shark merchandise is Sharknado apparel, stuff that you wear only when you're trying to create an aura of general hopelessness.
An aura visible from space.
Two noteworthy items were a hat and a shirt, both of which had a shark bursting out of them, and as I stood in front of them, taking pictures like I was trying to win the gold in Irony, I heard a lady tell her friend, "It's just not right for people to wear those ... with what's been going on, you know?"
I'm sure that this has a bit to do with the fact that the shirt has a plush shark in the middle of it, when most shirts that you wear in public usually don't have plush sharks in the middle of them. But the more people I talked to, the more I recognized that no one wanted to wear a shark shirt for fear of being insensitive in some fashion. Relatively few people are attacked by sharks each year, but they still refrained because of what might happen if they met a shark-attack survivor on the street while they were wearing their new Sharknado hat: mixed feelings and fisticuffs.
Most of the people who are attacked by sharks don't seem to have any ill will against sharks. As tragic and awful as it is to lose a limb or chunk of flesh, they handle it far better than I could and mainly seem thankful to be alive and hopeful that it won't happen to too many others. So, whether or not it's "morally wrong" to wear a shark shirt is anyone's guess, since there is no mass outrage against sharks, just fear and misunderstanding.
Swimming in the ocean is basically filling a shark's fridge with meat made of you.
It is definitely morally wrong, however, to wear a gaudy Sharknado shirt. Doing that and expecting to be judged like a regular human is assuming that the world is far kinder than it actually is.
Everyone Was Willing To Get In The Water If There Were Kids There
Everyone was nervous about going in the water. When I walked down to the beach for the first time, chairs and towels were arranged as if people had gathered to hold a wake for the death of fun. Barely anyone was splashing around, much less getting in. The ocean had betrayed them.
The fear was cut by the first joke that I heard on the trip. Someone said they would go in the water if there were kids in there, because kids are smaller, easier prey for sharks.
Children: the perfect high-protein, low-calorie mid-afternoon snack.
Well, on second thought, that isn't a joke as much as it's a morbid declaration of children being snack-sized. That would not be the last time I heard that joke. Remember in 2000, when "Wazzzuuuuuuuuup!?!?" was the alpha and omega of funny things that you could say to someone? It was kind of like that, except with slightly more implications of future carnage.
I just wanted someone else to be in the water before I got in. I would eventually stand near the edge and kick around in it. I wanted to get in, and I couldn't. Soon, a family rushed to the shore a little ways down the beach, and dashed into the surf. It was a group of three kids. Two made it into the water on their feet. The last somehow fell forward and sideways. When you're a small kid, gravity is a random force that inflicts its power upon you until you decide to stop running everywhere. But he instantly managed to get back up and join his siblings out in the water.
My first thought was, "Well, it should be OK to go in a little deeper now."
My second thought was, "Oh god. I've become a monster."
As if the National Service Of Making Sure That Other, Tinier Folk Get In The Ocean Before You, So That They Get Devoured Instead (N.S.O.M.S.T.O.T.F.G.I.T.O.B.Y.S.T.T.G.D.I.) had sent out a mass text, I watched as, one by one, more people got into the water around me. It happened pretty slowly, but a portion of the beach figured that, since some kids were in the water and I was in the water, their odds were exponentially improved.
You Can't Help But Join In The Hysteria A Little Bit
I think the biggest issue that people have with sharks is a fear of their versatility. Eels will bite the shit out of you, but nature documentaries only show them peeking out of coral formations. Unless you're near a reef you have nothing to worry about. Jellyfish have mouths that are also anuses, so fuck them, who cares. And everything else is forgettable and therefore not worth fearing.
Barracuda, you're not even worth mentioning.
But, in our minds, a shark can be anywhere from three-feet-long to Godzilla-size. My paranoia set in as soon as I lost sight of my feet in the water. I was about waist deep, and I absolutely knew, in my soul, that a shark was going to bite me on my crotch and legs. It was only a matter of time before I looked down and realized that I was the ocean's retribution for man's careless consumption of seafood.
If there was a shadow in the water, it was a shark. If I stepped on something, it was a shark. If I felt like there was something near me, it was a shark. If my girlfriend approached, she was a shark in a lady costume.
"Honey, I'm not going to lie: This isn't your best picture."
Rather than swim anywhere, I would jerkily wade there, because I had come to the conclusion that a shark would be less likely to attack me if I made clumsy attempts at walking, rather than clumsy attempts at floating. I can't find any data that backs up my theory, so I know that it was just my brain rationalizing stupidity as a way to combat being scared. I doubt that any shark in the world would see me trudging through 36 inches of water and think, "Gah! He's walking. Daniel, that genius, has outsmarted our species again."
People Need To Realize That Most Animals Aren't Out To Get Them
In North Carolina, and in many other places, some people have a problem with pit bulls, because shitheads have seen how naturally strong pit bulls are and have trained them to be mean.
Pull yourself together. Stop treating dogs like they're in the wrong when they lash out at you for annoying them all day. Most dogs are going to be mean if you're a jerk to them. But awful people have turned pit bulls into animals that we constantly have to have a debate about. Are they nice? Are they not nice? Regardless of "aggressive breed" accusations, being generally kind and respectful to animals tends to yield positive results.
We've done a similar thing with sharks, where a lot of people really don't respect the fact that they live in the water. People go fishing on piers and throw chum, and we get up in arms when it becomes more dangerous to swim near those piers. "How dare I not be able to swim around freely in a place that is literally serving sharks their food? What kind of apocalypse are we experiencing where sharks are doing what they've been doing for millions of years?" We're probably never going to train a shark to be a house pet, but if we do, oooh, buddy. The world will be mine.
"Don't worry. He doesn't bite. He swallows whole. ATTACK!"
But treating sharks like harbingers of doom does not help. Treating them like predators that we're going to have to work around is our only option, really.
Man has a tendency to want to conquer things, and when we can't conquer them, our immediate response is "What the fuck is this dog's problem? Blacklist this dumb puppy's whole breed." Water temperature fluctuation and migration patterns have had to do with more sharks appearing, and until we get a peace treaty from them that reads "Sorry. No more bites. Jaws 3 was terrible, tho. -Sharks," we're going to have to be on our best behavior and give them some leeway as creatures that might chomp on us.
Co-existing doesn't always mean learning enough about something to be totally safe from it. Sometimes it just means not being an outrageous dick about stuff.
Daniel is a shark wearing an elaborate man costume. It was a trick this whole time. He has a blog.
You'd think with all the Shark Week the population watches we'd be more informed about handling a shark sighting. Maybe that's why Adam Tod Brown calls for an end to Shark Week in 6 Reasons Shark Week Should Be Stopped. And if you think sharks are bad, wait until you read 6 Animals That Kill Nature's Scariest Creatures For Fun.
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