There are few sounds that can paint a more vivid picture than the ominous and simple theme created by composer John Williams for the 1975 film “Jaws.” If beachgoers weren’t afraid of sharks before Steven Spielberg released that thriller, they were after.
Yet despite recent attacks off Long Island beaches, sharks aren’t something we should lose sleep over. Not that we can dismiss these encounters — they are dangerous, and something we must pay attention to. The injuries, and the potential for deaths, are very real.
But at the same time, we can’t decide to cut the beach out of our summer plans with the discovery that the ocean does indeed include wildlife — and some varieties that might not take too kindly to swimmers.
Shark bites are rare. Very rare. Last year, the Florida Museum of Natural History tracked 73 unprovoked shark bites on people, with more than half of them in the United States. Nine lives were lost to sharks in unprovoked attacks worldwide, and just one here in America.
That’s in line with the past five years of data, including 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic lockdown reduced attacks significantly.
On Long Island, a shark attack was something we’d talk about every 10 years or so, despite well over 1,000 miles of shoreline. But that has changed in recent years — and, according to experts, it will continue to change.
Christopher Paparo, who manages Stony Brook University’s Marine Sciences Center, told reporters that there are not only sharks off Long Island’s coast, but also whales and dolphins. But weren’t they always there? No, actually. The population of all three has grown dramatically in recent years — all up from virtually nonexistent in the 1960s.
That’s good news for the environment, even if it’s not so good for beachgoers. But that doesn’t mean people and sharks still can’t co-exist. It does mean much more diligence, and following some simple advice from the Florida museum, which has made sharks its focus for many years.
For example, swim with a buddy, since sharks are more likely to attack people alone in the water.
Stay close to shore, and be extra careful near sandbars or steep drop-offs, since sharks like those areas. Swim during the day, and avoid low-light hours at dawn and dusk, when sharks are typically feeding.
Don’t wear shiny jewelry, and avoid areas where there is a lot of fishing. Try not to splash too much, because sharks can hear the sound, and might think there is food nearby.
Sure, “Jaws” and other thrillers have led us to believe that sharks can sense human blood, but there’s no evidence to support that. Still, if you do have an open cut, maybe avoid the water.
And if a shark is spotted, don’t race out of the water. Slowly and calmly make your way to the beach.
Keep in mind that with 70 or so attacks per year on average, your chances of being attacked by a shark remain extremely low. Your chance of being killed in a car accident is 1 in 84, according to the National Safety Council. Your chance of drowning is 1 in 1,134. Your chance of being struck and killed by lightning is 1 in 79,746.
The odds of being fatally wounded in an unprovoked shark attack? 1 in 3.7 million.
So grab your towel and your suntan lotion. Bring something to eat and plenty to drink. It’s summer, and the beaches are calling your name. There will always be dangers out there.
But vigilance is key.
Drive carefully. Swim with a friend. If you see threatening skies, take cover. And don’t panic if a shark shows up. Stay safe, and enjoy the water.