Barry Saunders

Y’all calm down – we can’t rid the sea of sharks

How many more people have to be seriously injured and traumatized, how many more business owners must watch their fortunes fade like footprints in the sand at high tide before we eradicate this toothy marine menace?

The world has watched, aghast, as at least eight people, while minding their own business, have been attacked by sharks on the North Carolina coast.

What will it take before we rid the oceans of these dangerous killers and make the beaches safe for frolicking?

We landlubbers have no rational fear of a shark attack: if one gets me while I’m splish-splashing in my inflatable pool out back – the deepest water I’m entering – he deserves a good meal and I’ll go willingly. Every time someone enters the ocean, though, it appears there’s a chance he could become a happy meal.

These lions of the sea seem prone to attack, and nothing is being done save the flying – literally and figuratively – of the white flag. According to beach protocol, the white flag means a shark has been spotted nearby, but it might as well mean “We surrender, Mr. Big Bad Shark. Do with us what you will.”

Sharks are allowed to disrupt vacations and thus economies: Bob Chestnut is the owner of Ride the Wave surf shop on Ocracoke Island, and he also runs surf camps and gives individual surf lessons. While the retail store is still thriving, he said, “surf lessons have been non-existent” since July 1, when an unpatriotic seven-foot shark attacked a man on the beach there just three days before Independence Day.


“Retail’s been good, but everybody’s canceling surf lessons,” Chestnut said. Tuesday, he said, was the first one he’s had since the July 1 attack. He said he usually averages three or four a week.

“I’ll give you an example” of how sharks have affected business, Chestnut said. “For the week after that July incident, you could drive up and down the beach and it would be packed, cars everywhere, people laying out having fun. But you didn’t see anybody in water past their ankles.”

Yikes! We Americans don’t agree on much, but we should unite in the effort to establish our dominion over these killers. Can’t we clear the ocean of them – at least during the summer or on revenue-generating holidays?

If you’re wondering from where such an odd notion came, it came from the same place that many other odd notions come: Fox News.

Brian Kilmeade and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, hosts of “Fox & Friends, discussed our seeming capitulation of the sea this week, when talking about North Carolina sharks and professional surfer Mick Fanning’s shark encounter Sunday in South Africa:

Kilmeade: “I think that the most shocking thing is that after you hear about the six attacks in North Carolina, OK, these are just swimmers. But then when you see a champion surfer and you have a three-camera shoot and an overhead shot, [you] say, ‘Oh my goodness, it could happen anywhere.’

“You would think that they would have a way of clearing the waters before a competition of this level. But I guess they don’t.”

Hasselbeck: “Sure. If a three-time world champion surfer isn’t safe, who is?”

Yes, they wondered aloud why the oceans can’t be turned into shark-free zones and why the sharks were no respecters of person – just swimmers? Before you ridicule them, however, let us paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: some people see things as they are and ask “why?”; Kilmeade and Hasselbeck dream things that never were and ask “How come we can’t get rid of them darned sharks?”

Yes, why can’t the oceans be cleared of sharks? At Palisades Park Pool in Rockingham, lifeguards Ben Graham, Johnny Bostic and Pie McDonald used to clear the pool daily for 15 minutes so they could show off their diving prowess and swim unimpeded. OK, everybody outta the pool, they’d shout, and out we’d scamper.

Perhaps Kilmeade had something like that in mind: the sharks could be driven from the water long enough for the surfers and other important people to do their thing. We could even give the sharks a gift certificate to Long John Silver’s for their trouble.

Mind-reading Kilmeade defenders insist that he simply meant the waters around the competition area could be cleared for the competition, not that the oceans could be cleared.

I’ve watched and listened to the clip countless times, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt: I didn’t get that.

Dr. John Carlson, a research biologist with NOAA, told me Wednesday that there have been programs since the 1970s in South Africa and Australia in which small areas near beaches were “ringed with netting to protect swimmers from potentially being attacked.”

Clearing sharks from large areas, he said, is neither “very feasible” or desirable because of their importance to the eco-system.

As noted oceanographer Hasselbeck noted, “The shark should be afraid” of the Australian surfer in South Africa. “That was a tough punch he gave there.”

“First of all, the person in South Africa was not attacked,” Carlson said. “He wasn’t bitten or harmed. ... The white shark came close to him to check him out” and got tangled in the cord that keeps surfers and their surfboards attached.

“Many of the attacks are what we call hit-and-run or bite-and-run, where the shark will bite a person and immediately recognize ‘this is not my natural prey’ and then leave the area.”

Oops. Sorry, mate.

The surfer dude did indeed punch the shark, a punch in the nose being the prescribed method of repelling a shark attack. (Mine would be screaming or pleading and saying “Y’all don’t even like dark meat, do you?”) Carlson said there’s an area atop a shark’s head with sensory structures. “Hitting the shark there will confuse the animal” and presumably allow you to get away.

So would, I think, screaming or yelling, “Get that fat guy over there!”

That’s good to know about the punching, but what if the shark hadn’t planned to attack and you, unprovoked, punched it in the nose?

As the late comedian Robert Schimmel said, the shark would then feel compelled to attack in order to maintain its sea cred:

“I was going to let you go, but the other sharks are watching.”