Jaws frightened the world back in 1975. The man-eating shark thriller quickly became the highest grossing film of all time selling over 128 million tickets at the time. It was enough to make people wonder whether it was safe to go in the water during that summer, and many summers afterwards.
The iconic poster with the woman swimming on the surface of the water with the sinister shark approaching her from beneath with a head as wide as she is long had people thinking what may be down there in real life.
As the 40th anniversary of the movie has come, the real life terror has come also.
Shark attacks on the coast continues to hit the news waves after what seems to be an unusually active summer for shark/human interactions. We have had a couple lose limbs after quick attacks close to shore, and two others with what resembles a small shark bite resulting in minor injuries. There became a slight buzz since the shark attacks when Google maps showed a marker for Mid-Atlantic Shark Area off the coast of Wilmington.
So what is with all the sharks? Nothing. It is normal. They are here every year at this time. The Atlantic beaches offer warm waters and lots of prey and food. Two years ago a video went viral showing a teenage girl fishing from her pier in a coastal estuary. As she got the fish to the top of the water, a large bull shark launched from below snatching her catch from the line and sending the girl into an astonished and frightened frenzy afterwards.
Last year, another video went viral with hundreds of sharks swimming all the way up the shore to the point of writhing back and forth as the seawater washed out, then swimming away when the waves came back up again, only to do the same thing again on the next wave cycle.
If you look up shark attacks per decade, you will find each decade has more than the decade before, and the majority are along the East coast. Why? Are sharks developing a taste for humans? In simple words, no.
Just in my lifetime I can remember beaches with people as far as the eye can see donning the sand and water, but you could stake claim on a small patch and have room to throw frisbees and footballs and run around without threat of hitting someone else. Now, during peak times, you may have to walk over a mile to access the beach because of public parking spaces being exhausted, and once you get to the beach you may be stacked two, three, or even more deep from the water.
More people equals more chances for a shark to misinterpret what it is seeing splashing around. There is a reason limbs were the attached parts of the body. A person’s arms and legs, with their quick movements, resemble small prey fish. And during the shark migrations when they are near shore, they are searching for food.
As I have mentioned in a recent previous column though, you just do not know what is below you. Very large sharks do not require deep water in order to swim and feed. Last week, a friend brought in a nine foot long tiger shark while surf fishing off Oak Island. I caught a five foot long shark from the kayak that had half of its tail ripped off and a larger shark bite behind the dorsal fin that was attacked while I was fighting it. My grandfather caught a 12 foot hammerhead while surf fishing Ocracoke three decades ago.
Big fish are out there. They always have been. Sharks are out there. They always have been. The difference is we are now out there, and we have not always been out there in the numbers we are today. Sharks will likely not attack humans simply because we are big bait. Sharks attack humans due to mistaken identity.
Avoid swimming in early morning, late afternoon, or evening hours. This is when sharks are most active and searching for food. Don’t swim near someone surf fishing. The attraction of an angler’s bait for other fish increases the odds of attracting sharks to the near area. With a little thought and understanding, maybe we won’t be the next poster victim for a shark thriller movie.