Sand castles, sunscreen and sea shells. Beach season is in full throttle throughout the country. However, as summer carries on, something more sinister lurks in the back of everyone's minds... sharks.
The mention of sharks usually brings to mind Steven Spielberg's notorious film, Jaws.
The movie's infamous Great White shark, with its huge teeth, ferocious eating habits and intent to kill has brought fear to beach-goers since its debut.
The motion picture was inspired by the shark attacks along the New Jersey shore in July of 1916. The attacks occurred over a 10-day period and left four people dead and one seriously injured.
Ever since, New Jersey vacationers have come to associate the shore with images of shark attacks, red water and screaming victims. However, according to Dr. Samuel H. Gruber of the Bimini Biological Field Station, these associations are unnecessary.
"Getting attacked by a shark is almost the most unlikely thing imaginable," Dr. Gruber said.
According to the National Safety Council, Dr. Gruber is correct. The Inquiry Facts of 2010 produced this year's edition with the lifetime odds of dying, and shark attacks didn't even make the list. You are more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident, becoming struck by lightning, being bitten or struck by a dog, or falling than getting attacked by a shark.
"I would say that there's about a one in three million chance of getting a shark bite," said Gruber. "There's basically zero risk, but it happens from time to time."
Nevertheless, right now is when sharks are most abundant in New Jersey waters, according to George H. Burgess, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File.
"Summertime is the time for sharks," said Burgess. "They are in large abundance right now until the fall when they move south again."
Attracted to the warm waters of the Jersey Shore and other northern beaches, sharks migrate north from the south every summer and return in the fall when the waters in the north begin to cool.
The most common sharks found at Jersey beaches are the sandbar shark, which is the most common, dusky sharks and the occasional tiger or bull shark. In addition, white sharks can be found year-round at the Jersey Shore because they prefer cool water.
"Sharks are prevalent right along the shoreline because there is lots to eat close to shore," according to Burgess.
That is why, on occasion, swimmers and sharks have a dangerous interaction.
A shark's typical diet includes mainly fish, sea turtles, sea lions and seals. This diet is a contributing factor to why sharks attack human swimmers, boogie-boarders and surfers. With dangling arms and legs, sharks see swimmers resembling their normal prey according to Discovery Communications.
"Ninety percent or more of shark incidents are mistakes," said diver Gary Adkison in "Sharkbite! Surviving the Great White." "They assume that we're something that we are not."
The top six most dangerous places for shark attacks are: Brevard County, Fla., Queensland, Australia, Hawaii, New South Wales, Australia, South Africa and, the most dangerous, Volusia County, Fla.
As far as New Jersey is concerned, there have been 17 shark attacks with only five fatalities since the 1916 attacks. The last one occurred in 1926, said Burgess.
"In New Jersey, we are not expecting lots of shark and human interactions," said Burgess. "However, that being said, anytime you enter the ocean, it's a wilderness experience. You should keep your eyes open and no one should enter the sea thinking that they are absolutely safe."
Shark Safety Tips:
-- Always stay in groups. Sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
-- Do not wander too far from shore. This isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance.
-- Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
-- Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating -- a shark's olfactory ability is acute.
-- Avoid wearing shiny jewelry because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
-- Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
-- Know that sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks -- both eat the same food.
-- Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing; sharks see contrast particularly well.
-- Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
-- Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs -- these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
-- Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!
Above content contributed by: George H. Burgess and the International Shark Attack File of the Florida Museum of Natural History, HowStuffWorks by Discovery Communications, and Dr. Samuel H. Gruber of the Bimini Biological Field Station.
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