Just in time for Shark Week we’ve had our first shark incident here in the island. The Discovery and National Geographic channel do an excellent job at promoting this event in the summer which starts on July 24th this year. One of the positives about the week is the fine job these channels do at bringing to light the importance and need for these creatures in our ocean’s and how they provide a vital link in the marine food chain. On the other hand, much of the content aired during shark week are over-dramatizations that portray sharks in the wrong light, which only instils fear in the viewing public.
Sharks have always been here and we’ve always swam among them. I’m not talking about great white sharks really but more of the common sand tigers and brown sharks that roam the shore close to the beach. These sharks very docile and won’t attack unprovoked. Most reported cases of individuals getting “attacked” or bitten by one of these, usually docile, creatures is a result of someone stepping on them and the shark reacting in fear.
Locally some more light was probably shed on the presence of these sharks due to surf fishermen targeting these sharks over the years. And more recently with the explosion of social media, the masses could see these sharks that were being caught off the local beaches. I’ve spoken to some casters who have been doing it a long time and they did tell me they caught these fish many years ago before the age of social media. They just did it for fun and never spoke of it.
On the flipside, it seems that environmental changes have brought some new shark species into our waters. I personally observed an all-out spinner and blacktip shark feeding frenzy on a school of bunker on the central South Shore of the island last year. The frenzy came within casting distance for me to lay off one cast with a pencil popper but I had no takers. For the rest of the afternoon I watched these sharks come clear out of the water on the outer bar, well out of casting distance. The following evening, I mentioned the experience to a friend of mine and he headed down the next morning. He came across a blitz not too far from my original sighting and threw a pencil popper into the frenzy. A blacktip took his offering and gave him quite the fight on a 10-foot rod with 20-pound braid. Later that afternoon I got the pictures of the estimated 70- to 100-pound blacktip shark. Ten years ago, something like that would have been unheard of in our waters but the past few seasons this has been a reoccurring trend, a sign of a pattern change.
The real inspiration for this shark-themed editor’s log is the recent “attack” at Smith Point beach. A lifeguard that was participating in a drill in waist deep water felt a sharp pain in his hand while in the water. The individual struck the 5-foot shark three times before the fish swam off. Then lifeguard only had minor injuries. Chances are this shark was either a brown or sand tiger and it didn’t have intensions of actually going after the men. The two unfortunately crossed paths and the shark took a reaction bite out of fear. I can understand the fear of being so close to and actually getting bitten by one of these sharks but remember this is absolutely not typical of these species. In the end we have to remember that when we do enter the water we’re in their home and we must respect that fact.