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Old 11-23-2007, 07:30 PM
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Default How to Try to Avoid Negative Shark Encounters

This was first written back in 2002 or 2003. There haven't been that many shark attacks reported in that time on kiters. I have heard of six attacks worldwide with most being fairly "minor" since 2000. This changed with the fatality reported on February 3, 2010.

The rules that I generally tried to follow to avoid negative shark interactions over a very long time of diving follow. Some can be adapted to kiteboarding:

1. Avoid making periodic noise or splashing. Dying or struggling fish emit a characteristic acoustic signature that has been documented to attract sharks for a very long time. It is interesting that a poorly performed (lots of splashing); Australian crawl stroke emulates this signature. So that flashy, splashy stroke that serves so well in the pool can be a dinner bell in the ocean. In the ocean keep your swimming cool, quiet and smooth.

Of course kiteboards toss an incredible amount of spray and no doubt generate tremendous noise underwater. For what ever reason, aside from inducing occasional curiosity, kiteboarding in my experience to date anyway, doesn't seem to unduly attract sharks in MY AREA. I am really not sure why the noise and spray of kiteboarding doesn't attract sharks either. This may not apply in other areas.

2. Avoid schools of bait fish, seasonal migrations of bait fish and particularly bait fish that are disturbed. That is baits that are periodically flying out of the water because something larger and hungry is chasing them. I ignored this one of the times I was intercepted and checked out by an 8 ft. curious shark. Whoops!

3. Don't go near fishing piers or down current of fishing boats and particularly fishermen that are chumming (tossing fish parts into the water). The fish fluids can be sensed by sharks over great distance due to the electro-chemical reaction with seawater and the highly sensitive sensory receptors along the side of the shark's body. They tend to follow these sensory trails upstream to their origin. One of Paul Menta's more notable shark encounters was close to a fishing pier in an area frequented by sharks in NW Florida. So he was in the neighborhood, splashing and his board leash looked tasty so lets have a bite on it?! Another reason not to use board leashes! Avoiding riding near inlets may also help to reduce the chances of a shark encounter.

4. Unless you want to see sharks, underwater preferably, don't go out where sharks have recently been seen, that day? Sharks are generally elusive creatures in the more populous areas of Florida. It is rare to encounter a shark on the surface or see one inside the limits of visibility underwater. I generally assume that sharks are always within sensory range, say under 1/4 mi. or closer but they generally remain invisible. If you talk to airplane pilots in the area they will back this up with frequent sightings of sharks near bathers while flying overhead. In order to see sharks they generally need to change their behavior. So if that sharks are in a public mood, chasing baits or trolling on the surface it would be good to go somewhere else. Jumping sharks were observed in the area of two other kiteboarder attacks on the east coast of Florida. Spinner migrations along the shoreline of Florida occur each year involving thousands of sharks. Attacks on swimmers and surfers occur in most years during these migrations. If you are in the water, there is little difference between you and these other two groups with documented attacks in the past.

5. Avoid wearing jewelry (i.e. lures) and bright contrasting colors. Apparently the bright contrasting colors can aid the sharks poor eyesight. I have heard about the "don't look like a seal" argument for over 30 yrs. We don't have seals in my area not to say the sharks don't have racial memory of it so I am on the fence on this one. The jewelry thing is an absolute in my book and particularly to avoid barracuda attacks. Barracudas are as common as mosquitoes in my area and can hit anything small that moves and catches their eye. When I was a little kid I used to throw seashells to drop in front of the to watch them strike the shells.

It is very true the weakest sense of sharks is their eyesight. Interestingly enough they cover their eyes with a membrane just before attacking further impairing this questionable sense in turbid, often dark water. My policy with regard to sharks, but not necessarily practice (bad diver!), if it could cause a problem - don't do it.

6. Prime feeding time appears to be around sunset and sunrise. To reduce the probabilities of a negative encounter it would be good to avoid riding at these times. I am still trying to avoid the sunset riding thing. It is hard to sort out with work and the "it's blow'n you gotta get goin" impulse.

7. In the case of kiteboarding, I would advise avoid staying in the water for extended periods if this is possible. A rider underway can easily be hit but I suspect that a stationary target that has drawn the interest of a shark may be more vulnerable. Kiters have usually been in the water prior to other attacks.

8. Lastly if a shark comes up on you and you are underway, I would advise leaving the area on your board at best possible speed. I would land and think over continuing to ride that day. If you are in the water and a shark comes up, try to water start and get out of dodge if you can. If you can't move away, something other kiteboarders have successfully done is to respond with aggression against the shark. Some shark psychologists feel that aggression is outside of the experience and racial memory of most sharks and they often decide to go to easier pastures. I don't believe in shark psychologists but it sounds worth trying to me in any case. If the shark appears to leave the area, body drag, swim or water start and leave the area at best possible speed. If you are in the water don't splash and keep looking around you to verify that the shark doesn't come back.

So in summary, sharks, are they out there? Yes. Do they generally make a serious problem of themselves or even become visible, no. Follow good common sense procedures, some are tossed out above and have fun. I would not dwell on the subject of sharks but be ready to try to deal with the situation if it arises. Anytime you are in the water you could have a negative encounter with a shark but fortunately they are quite rare. The above comments are derived from a long time diving in Florida and the Caribbean. Florida leads the world by far in shark attacks, generally on bathers. We don't hold a candle though to the more serious incidents that occur in South Africa and Australia. Mission Man you have my respect for shredding, sensibly and with forethought in those interesting waters down that way. Slightly different experiences and precautions could apply to California, South Africa, Australia, etc.

Last edited by ricki; 02-03-2010 at 11:24 PM.
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