Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Presence of Great White sharks has nothing to do with Jaws

Three years ago this month, 50-year-old Deborah Franzman of Nipomo was killed by a great white shark while swimming at Avila Beach. A year later, a great white took a bite out of a young surfer's board off Pismo Beach. A month after that, a great white was observed cruising off Morro Bay's south jetty.

This month, seven otters have been chomped on by a great white and, Friday, there was a shark sighting at Avila Beach.

It appears that Jaws is back.

Should we be afraid of taking a dip in our local waters? Cautious, yes; fearful, no.

Scientists have known for years that at least one great white lives off Point Buchon near Diablo Canyon. It's an ideal environment: The ocean floor rises steeply near Point Buchon, bringing up cold, nutrient-rich waters that feed sealife and a huge concentration of seals and sea lions -- the blue-plate specials for great whites.

But even with an abundance of such food, sharks of all stripes and types are known to cruise beyond their immediate haunts.

Our beach cities should think regionally when there's a shark sighting. If a shark is spotted in Avila Beach, then Pismo Beach and Morro Bay should also post signs saying so.

Although we'll stay out of the water for the next couple of days, the good news is that shark attacks are extremely rare. On average each year, there are fewer than 100 fatal shark attacks reported from around the world. Fatal lightning strikes and bee stings each far exceed this number.

Here are some suggestions for lessening the odds of an attack:

• Don't swim with seals or in waters that are teeming with bait fish.

• Avoid the water if you're bleeding, even a little bit.

• Don't swim at dusk or dawn, favorite feeding times for sharks.

• Stay out of the water if a fishing boat is nearby.

• Swim in a group.

• Don't wear metal or jewelry.

If a shark does take an interest in you, "playing dead" won't help.

George Burgess of the International Shark Attack File, an organization that studies sharks, skates and rays, says "be as aggressive as you are able. Pound the shark in any way possible. Try to claw at the eyes and gill openings, two very sensitive areas."

Hmmm. Did we say we'll forgo an ocean dip for the next couple of days?
Better make that a week.


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