"Chaplin" Swims By, Showing Off. Shark Diving was One of the Greatest Experiences of My Life. Photo by VP
I was shocked and dismayed the other day when I saw the new commercials promoting Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Once again, the television network is misrepresenting this magnificent creature in the name of ratings.
The first short spot did not grab my attention or bother me too much. It showed a guy floating on his back in the ocean with his big belly protruding into the sky. After about nine seconds, he was taken under and the picture switched to a frame that said Shark Week premieres Aug. 2.
It is the second clip that infuriated me. You see the hands of a guy removing a lens cap from a camera, as many amateurs do while the film is running. He then says something like “Hey Biv,” to this girl who is in the water, hanging on to the edge of the boat. In a cheerful voice, she says, “Hi. Hello Mom, hello Dad, hello kids at home.” As soon as she gets out that final word, she is violently yanked back into the water and taken under. The screen switches to an underwater view with the words Shark Week oozing blood.
Promoting the special Shark Week programming this way shows a complete disregard for the facts by the Discovery Channel. They say the series is meant to help with conservation efforts of sharks, and yet, all the commercials and promotional materials spread illogical and unfounded fear. Who exactly is going to want to save a shark after watching them attack people all week? If people claim to know about sharks based on the misinformation presented by the Discovery Channel, they know nothing.
When people seek out the facts for themselves, instead of relying on a network desperate for viewers, the problem of shark attacks proves not so chilling. In a review of the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) as presented on the Ichthyology site of the Florida Museum of Natural History, it is discovered that there were 118 alleged incidents of “shark-human interaction” in all of 2008 worldwide.
“Upon review, 59 of these incidents represented confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks on humans,” the ISAF said (1). “Overall, the 1990’s had the highest attack total of any decade and the first decade of the 21st century will exceed that total. The growth in shark attack numbers does not necessarily mean that there is an increase in the rate of shark attack, rather it most likely is reflective of the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the odds of interaction between the two affected parties.”
Out of the millions of people participating in recreational activities in the ocean, the number of unprovoked attack is very low — 59 in 2008 and 71 in 2007. While there is great trauma involved if one is attacked, the odds of being attacked are astronomical.
According to a quiz on the MSN Encarta encyclopedia site, the odds of being attacked by a shark are roughly one in 8 million (2). You have a better chance of dying from the following: Falling down the stairs — 1 in 200,000; adverse reaction to the sting of a bee, wasp or hornet — 1 in 5.9 million; or drowning in your bathtub — 1 in 800,000. Where are the shows about these dangers? Where are the dramatic promotional spots of people being chased by bees, dropping their towels to step into the tub or carrying laundry down the steps? We don’t sell fear of these things, so why sell fear when it comes to sharks?
In 2000 (actually the highest year on record for shark attacks with 79, according to the ISAF), my best friend Clay Morgan and I went scuba diving with sharks off Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas. It was hands-down one of the greatest experiences of my life. I will never forget it.
Yes, it was scary. When Clay first told me he was going to do it, I thought he was completely insane. Then, he told me he was going to do it by himself. Overcoming my natural fear, I said, “No, you’re not. I’m going with you. That is, if you want me to.”
Before we went, I purposely watched the movie, “Deep Blue Sea,” figuring that would be about the worst it could get. Surprisingly, it did serve to calm my nerves, somehow inoculating me to the fear.
Once we there, cruising out to the dive spot, I asked the boat’s captain if he had ever had a customer bitten by a shark. He said no, but he had heard some stories from other captains. In the stories he heard, however, the humans had always done something stupid and provoked the shark, such as the guy who grabbed the shark’s tail so it would turn around for a picture.
Well, of course the shark bit that fool. A dog bites you, too, when you suddenly grab its tail. Most people I know would attack you if you unexpectedly grabbed their derriere. This is not an uncommon reaction by most animals to such an act.
As we stood at the aft of the boat, preparing to jump into the crystal clear water, fear and adrenaline surged in my body. I could see the cold, dark shadows of dozens of sharks swimming below me. I began to have second thoughts. Just then, Clay jumped. I shrugged my shoulders, thought what the heck and jumped in after him (the captain told me later that he was about to push me in because I was taking too long!).
Once we were down with the sharks — grey reefs and blacktips — my fear disappeared as I was mesmerized by the sight of these awesome creatures gliding through the water around me. There is just no way for me to completely explain my emotions as the sharks surrounded me. My only suggestion is for all of you to do it someday for yourselves.
I nicknamed the one in the photograph above “Chaplin,” because he was a ham, coasting slowly towards me and rotating his body as he cruised by me, showing me what a great swimmer he was, even upside down. It was just a completely surreal and ethereal experience for me.
That is what I remember about my experience with sharks — I remember how dreamlike the experience was, how heavenly. I do not remember the fear.
Don’t buy into the garbage the Discovery Channel throws at you to get you to watch. Just go shark diving for yourself to discover the truth about these incredible animals.
My only suggestions are that you stay on the first floor (thus avoiding those deadly steps) and you go unwashed (no need for those scary baths!). If you follow those two simple suggestions when you take your shark-diving trip, I can almost guarantee you will be all right.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to share your comments below!