One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I am terrified — shaking-in-my-boots, watching the horizon, terrified — of sharks. I grew up going to the beach in South Florida every summer. I love the water. Jim, the girls, and I have spent two weeks most summers in Cape Cod. I want Emerald and Sapphire to love the water, too. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t scan the water in all directions looking for sharks, the entire time my kids are in the ocean. One of my biggest fears is that one of these large, carnivorous fish will show up out of nowhere and attack one of my precious girls.
Intellectually, I know the odds of a shark attack are low. I also know that most sharks do not like the taste of humans and many attacks happen “by accident”, with people being mistaken for animals that the sharks do eat. But this is one example when an “Oops, I’m sorry” doesn’t help a whole lot. I understand there’s usually only one bite, but oh what a bite.
I haven’t always had this fear. Growing up and even in my pre-kid adult days, I didn’t even think about sharks when I was in the water. I can pretty confidently trace the source of my overwhelming fear to the shark attack on 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast in July 2001. Emerald was just 5 months old. She hadn’t yet been to the beach. But here was this kid, wading knee-deep in the water, not far out in the ocean where I had always imagined the sharks would be. Since then, other shark attacks have occurred on kids who were splashing in shallow water, which is just what kids love to do, and which also makes them look like food to the animals.
So what do I do about this fear, other than scan the waves? Not much. We avoid swimming at dusk and at dawn. And certainly if the beach we were on were closed due to shark sightings, we would stay out of the water. But I don’t want to scare the kids. As I said, I want them to love the water. So I suffer in silence. I glance side to side, and I pray as they play.
Imagine the thoughts that went through my head when I ran across this story last week: “Killer App Lets You Track Great Whites”! Why on earth would I want to track sharks??? The very thought of them makes me shudder, even if I’m nowhere near the beach.
But then just as that thought left my brain, another entered. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could know where all the sharks were while we were swimming?” I read the article and of course, they are talking about following 22 great white sharks for scientific data. I get it. I am a scientist after all. 🙂 But that didn’t stop my imagination. . . If enough people banded together, we could tag all the sharks in the world and know when it was safe to go into the water.
What I had in mind was a monitor room sort of like the one in the 1983 movie “War Games”:
This room could be staffed 24/7 and we would know every second when a shark was getting close to swimming areas. Think of it as a sort of “Big Brother” for sharks. It would be great! Swimmers everywhere would be safe.
Then the bubble burst and I realized that even if we could pull this off, I wouldn’t feel safe in the water. I’m too much of a worrywart. I would stand there in the water with one eye on my girls and the fun they were having, while the other eye scanned the horizon for that telltale fin. I would be sure that one of the sharks we failed to tag would be heading straight for my family. Or that even a tagged shark would get by unnoticed. Or that it would all happen too quickly for any sort of warning . . .
OK, so much for that brilliant plan. Let’s leave the tagging for scientific study purposes and I’ll leave the spectator-monitoring of that tracking to those of you who don’t shudder at the mere mention of the “s” word. And, I’ll go back to my own style of shark monitoring — every summer at the beach.
Would you be interested in this tracking app (the real one, not the one in my imagination)? Also, what are you deathly afraid of?