Being a surfer and sharing the water with sharks
Shark illustration by Caitlin Judge
So, I’m sure most of us have seen ‘that shark video’ by now which has gone viral. Drone footage showing an encounter with a respectably sized white shark here in Plettenberg Bay.
It’s really awesome footage of a very calm but close interaction with a shark and surfers. I’m one of them, just out of frame, but in the water surfing in this footage. He cruised on past me, very relaxed. This isn’t abnormal here. Plett is a great white hotspot. Most surfs you have here in winter (sharky season) they will be around. It becomes the norm to see them at some point on pretty much every surf in this time, some very close, some not. We are aware of who we share the ocean with- and mostly all encounters are of the same nature as the drone footage. However, the media depictions of this interaction paint a different picture.
In nearly all articles we were ‘lucky to be alive after a terrifying life or death encounter we will never forget’. I’m so disappointed that this is still the main narrative for the species. This could have been a great opportunity to show a very calm interaction which is much more the norm than any attack. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to be ignorant to the fact they are there, sharks are very much to be respected. I don’t deny that attacks happen, or the sadness that would follow if it did, but this is very rare. To add some stats, in one year 780,000 people were killed by mosquitos, 546,000 by other humans, 13,000 by dogs, 100 by elephants, 40 by jellyfish, and 4 by sharks. Yet the estimate for sharks killed by humans stands at 100 MILLION each year. For the most part, great white sharks are relaxed and inquisitive. An incredible species to witness.
So yes be aware, be safe, and look out for each other in the water- but also just enjoy the ocean and the creatures that call it home, without being dragged down by a fear largely created by people who haven’t had the opportunity to see these creatures for themselves.
I for sure know which I’m more afraid of, and which is more in need of protection.
Marine Scientist &