Wherever you are on the planet, when summertime comes there are fearful stories of shark attacks on the rise. In Western Australia, there are residents believe that the sharks are interfering with their surfing lifestyle. Their human lifestyle. Never mind that we’ve lost about 80% of the world’s sharks and many are in line for extinction. This is a predator that has survived millions of years. Millions…until humans began to destroy them out of fear or for food.
Yes, people have died because of shark interactions and I don’t mean to minimize that whatsoever. However, humans kill over 11,000 every hour. Every. Hour. More people die every year due to encounters with vending machines, coconuts, and other humans. Additionally, sharks are vitally important to the survival of the ocean as they keep the ecological balance that affects our environment and climate around the entire planet.
Growing up in Southern California, college in Florida, grad school in South Carolina, and now back here in Los Angeles; I am never far from the ocean. Whether swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, or surfing; I’ve been harassed by dolphins and marine mammals far more than any shark. A few of such interactions include:
1. I was surfing at dawn near 26th Street in Manhattan Beach, California with one other person in the water when a dolphin started circling us. The circles got smaller and smaller until it finally purposely bumped the back of my board and then jumped over me. The look on the fella’s face next to me was priceless. After the jump, the dolphin went back to circling us and eventually gave up and took off. It seemed to be either taunting us or wanted us to interact with it.
2. I was surfing at El Porto near 45th Street in Manhattan Beach with a lot of other surfers and the swell was a pretty good size, about 4 foot faces on the waves. As I was paddling over one wave a very large Pacific Bottlenose jumped over me. Everyone in the water that saw it told me that they wished they had a camera, as it was a spectacular sight.
3. One morning on the north side of the Venice Breakwater (Venice, California), I had the waves to myself and was having a great time until a pod of dolphins came close by. They were clearly playing around with each other. Not thinking much of it, I keep surfing until one came particularly close and began “tail slapping” repeatedly. This can be read as a sign of aggression so I took the hint and got out of the water. Grateful for the warning!
4. It wasn’t a dolphin but another marine mammal, a sea lion, popped up close to me just before dawn one morning and Topanga Beach (near Malibu, California). I noticed it there and said something to it and it disappeared under the water. Moments later there was a tug on my surfboard leash and I nearly fell off of my surfboard. Yes, it was the sea lion. Not sure if that was a playful action or on accident but it got my attention.
Now these may seem benign but I challenge you to think of them as that way if you replace a shark with any of the animals that I’ve encountered. You would likely get a lot of attention for the story that you had to tell. Whenever I’m in the water I know that it is not my domain and try to be as respectful as possible to all of the inhabitants. This has served me well and I’d advise all others enjoying the surf, diving, swimming, boating, or whatever to do the same. And yes, I’ve encountered sharks many times, including juvenile white sharks. Never once did they pose a threat or come after me in any way.