Sunday, April 5, 2009

Re-defining "Danger" on Sanibel

With the recent shark bite in the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico off Sanibel Island comes the usual media blitz about the dangers lurking in the waters.

But let's put this recent nip in perspective.

In the period between 1882 and 2007, there were a documented 5 unprovoked shark attacks in the WHOLE of Lee County (the county where Sanibel Island is located). And regarding attacks leading to mortal wounds, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, 4,406 people drowned in America during 1998. That's about 550 times as many deaths as caused by sharks in an average year.

OK, sharks exist, and once in a great while, one takes a human sample (and more often than not the shark is just looking to see what species the human is before attacking: thankfully most of them are none too keen on the way we taste).

Five bites in all of Lee County in 125 years is hardly worth panicking over. But if you are the panicking type, here are some suggestions for making your Gulf visits as safe as possible:
1. Always swim in a group. Sharks most often attack lone individuals.
2. Don't wander too far from shore. Doing so isolates you and places you away from assistance.
3. Avoid the water at night, dawn, or dusk. Many sharks are most active at these times and are better able to find you than you are to see them.
4. Don't enter the water if bleeding. Sharks can smell and taste blood, and trace it back to its source.
5. Don't wear shiny jewelry which does attract sharks.

But the reality is that it is unlikely that you will ever sight a shark on Sanibel much less be approached by one. And if you are approached, stay cool. Erratic movements will just make the shark curious as to whether you are edible. So be calm in your movements.

All that said, the risk of a shark bite is infinitely smaller than other "dangers" on this beautiful, tropical island. And these can be easily avoided.

Sunburn, heat exhaustion, and sunstroke are much more prevalent than are sharks. So, wear sunscreens, hats, foot protection, sunglasses and extra clothing. Rent an umbrella or sit in the shade as much as possible. Drink plenty of water. Any time you visit the beach, bag up and bring all these items and a first-aid kit down to the beach with you. A day at the beach - or an entire family vacation - can be easily ruined for each and all by bad sunburns, headaches, sunlight sensitivities, heat exhaustion or worse.

Equally prevalent is the lightning storm that can generally be spotted well in advance. Florida is the lightning capital of the USA, but not the world, the international title held by Africa. Lightning storms ares
a serious risk for those at the beach. When you see the skies darkening, leave the beach and head home. Why take the risk to see if it will blow by as it often does?

The joys of a Sanibel Island vacation outnumber 1000 to 1 the dangers. And the dangers are largely preventable. So shouldn't you be thinking of making plans to visit paradise now?


Tootie said...

Very informative article. Thank you for posting it.

Samba said...

Thanks, Tootie. The research I did went so far as to say (well documented) that you are much more likely to get attacked by a pig than attacked by a shark. So we are all quite safe if we don't visit farms!