Sharks Live in the Ocean, Part 2

[Read Part 1]

When we swim in the ocean we share the water with an abundance of other life, some of it larger and toothier than we are. Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. And just because they’re there doesn’t mean they care about us, or want anything to do with us.

Members of the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club, who share a beach on Aquatic Park, San Francisco, were recently reminded of these truths when a three-foot juvenile salmon shark swam into the cove and spent a few minutes cruising around near our docks. Salmon sharks sport a distinctive white underbelly and are sometimes mistaken for juvenile Great Whites. Though adults can grow to 10 feet long, they’re generally not considered a threat to humans.

Some footage taken by South Ender Gary Emich:

[Link to YouTube video]

The shark is behaving oddly and appears disoriented. According to the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, this shark may be suffering from a carnobacterium infection and resulting blindness. The PSRF has received several other reports recently of sharks beaching themselves elsewhere in Northern California.

salmon shark

Salmon shark (not the one in the video).

I didn’t swim at the South End the morning our confused fish friend visited us. But actually, I wish that I had. Though the idea of a shark cruising around Aquatic Park is startling, the primary emotion I feel watching that video is not fear but sympathy and curiosity. Sympathy for his suffering, and curiosity at seeing an animal that typically avoids human contact, swimming silently, anonymously, indifferently below our stroking arms.

Related external post:

The landlord’s in town, and the rent is due

A sobering summary of recent shark activity in Santa Barbara County by Peter Howarth, director of the SB Marine Mammal Center (courtesy of Shark Research Committee):

  • 14 April 2012 Shark attacked adult female sea lion off Stearn’s Wharf, Santa Barbara Harbor.  Sea lion rescued by harbor patrol, then it was brought to the dock to Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center (SBMMC) volunteers, where it died from shock and blood loss;
  • 20 July 2012 Male southern sea otter attacked at Guadalupe Dunes. Rescued by ranger and brought halfway to Santa Barbara, where it was picked up by SBMMC volunteers. Transferred to Mike Harris of CA Dept. Fish & Game for necropsy;
  • 15-20 July 2012 Adult female California sea lion attacked, received two bites on pelvic area;
  • 25 July 2012 Sea lion above reported on mooring buoy off East Beach, Santa Barbara. Sea lion left when harbor patrol approached too closely;
  • 25 July 2012 Sea lion attacked by shark off Leadbetter Point, Santa Barbara (Properly called Santa Barbara Point). Reported by Dan Collie, charter boat captain;
  • 27 July 2012 Sea lion attacked during period 20-25 July rescued but had to be euthanized;
  • *10-11 August 2012 Male Pacific harbor seal, 5-6 months old, attacked off Carpinteria sea rookery;
  • 12 August 2012 Above harbor seal reported on beach at rookery but washed away before rescued;
  • 13 August 2012 Harbor seal rescued. Bite on dorsal chest and another on pelvic area. Shattered pelvic bones. Animal died 16 August;
  • 14 August 2012 (0930): Eight-foot shark approached paddle boarder closely off Carpinteria.  Lifted head out of water to look at person;
  • **14 August 2012 (1720): Shark approached within 5 feet of surfer. It was 5-6 feet between dorsal and caudal fin; girth estimated at 3 feet. Estimated shark at 10 – 14 feet total length;
  • 15 August 2012 6-foot great white seen underwater by urchin diver off Santa Barbara light in afternoon (west of Leadbetter Beach about one mile); and 15 August 2012  Another shark reported seen by surfer friend of urchin diver off Leadbetter. No other details.


Sharks Live in the Ocean

So, there was this local news item last week. While Santa Barbara isn’t typically a hotbed of shark activity, this was a reminder that indeed, sharks do live in the ocean.

That’s right, readers. Sharks live in the ocean.

great white shark

It’s always interesting to observe how ocean swimmers deal with this fact.

Some take a spiritual, new-agey approach: If you just, you know, become one with the ocean and don’t give off the “fear signal,” the sharks will leave you alone. Fittingly and rather ironically, these people often are residents of San Francisco. (It’s OK, I used to be one.)

Others avoid the issue with euphemisms: “Man in the Grey Suit,” or “The Landlord,” or “Old Whitey”… or, most comically of all, “the S-word.” I guess the idea is, if you don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away.

Others put their faith in technology. Because obviously, the 6-meter, 2-ton “fish” attacking from below at 25mph is going to respect the little Shark Shield zapper dangling off the end of the kayak. Good luck with that.

And then there are kooks like this guy. Ah, well.

Me? I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. Sharks are fearsome creatures… but I’m still going to swim in the ocean. It’s a small risk – somewhere between an asteroid falling on your head and being struck by lightning – but still a risk.

And I think that’s the healthiest way to think about sharks as an ocean swimmer: as one of many risks we all take (often unwittingly) in everyday life. I drive a car, in which I could be smashed at any moment. I hike in the mountains, where venomous rattlesnakes lurk around every bend in the trail. And I swim in the ocean… where sharks live.

Swimming in sharky waters is a small risk – but not a constant one. It varies in predictable ways – and can therefore be minimized to our advantage. Some tips:

  • Don’t dress like a sea lion.
  • When you see a bait ball, GTFO.
  • Pay attention to migration patterns.
  • Never swim alone (most human-shark encounters are non-fatal, and it helps to have a buddy to drag your bloody hemorrhaging ass into shore).
  • Never go out with a swim buddy who is faster than you (j/k).
  • EDIT: Rob D. adds, “Avoid swimming at sunrise/sunset,” and agrees that, “If other animals are eating/congregating, food chain math says stay away.”

And, if all else fails, just close your eyes.

This guy really likes sharks

Remember Scott Cassell, the crazy person SCUBA diver who was going to swim from Catalina to San Pedro, underwater, while attempting to attract sharks?

Well, he did it. Here’s a video, and here’s the story, according to Shark Research Committee:

On September 17, 2011 Scott Cassell completed his dive from Catalina Island to the beach in front of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. California Diver Magazine reported the following;

“At 6:15 PM Saturday, September 17, 2011, Scott Cassell arrived safely at Cabrillo Aquarium Beach in San Pedro Harbor after covering 30 miles in a single day of diving. He maintained an average depth of 20 – 30 from the water’s surface.

Using a computer controlled mixed gas rebreather, a DUI drysuit with an argon inflation system, 4th Element Halo 3D thermal protection, and dual Luminox dive watches, he completed the distance in less than 12 hours, after some technical issues delayed the planned 4:00 AM start time by several hours.

Scott’s journey was filmed by Global Reef to help raise awareness regarding the alarming state of our oceans. One of his primary missions during the dive was to attract as many sharks as possible to obtain an accurate estimate of how many sharks are still present in the area today.

Sadly, at an interview on the beach just after surfacing, he said he didn’t see a single shark over the 30 miles he covered. ‘I saw 3 Mola Mola, 4 Sea lions, about 6 Dolphins and a huge school of sardines. But I didn’t see a single shark – and that breaks my heart. It’s absolutely a tragedy.’

Scott then reflected on his dives back in the 1980’s and 90’s, where he would often swim with 60 or more sharks on a single dive. Currently, it is estimated sharks are slaughtered at a rate of about 100 million a year worldwide – more than 200,000 sharks a day.

After answering questions about his incredible dive, Scott elaborated on the state of our oceans. ‘Unfortunately, I’m the generation that has seen the ocean start to die. It’s a reality. And not understanding this is not okay anymore. We need to think and be a good, responsible culture.’

‘We’ve only explored 0.5% of the ocean habitat – over 99% of the ocean is left to be explored. That’s encouraging, inspiring – and frightening. Because if we have systems failing in the ocean, and we don’t understand how these systems work, how are we going to fix them’? California Diver Magazine will provide more in-depth coverage of the dive in a future issue.”

I just feel terrible for the guy. To go to all the trouble of attracting sharks, and then have to settle for a few measly Mola Mola… who do those sharks think they are, anyway?

Another article on Cassell’s attempt seemed to indicate he would be using a diving bell, which does make the whole “diving while attempting to attract sharks” thing seem slightly less insane.

The Shark Research Committee, incidentally, is one of those websites I sort of wish I didn’t discover…