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News Story
Updated: 08/03/2013 08:00:54AM

Even airborne, sharks aren’t a big threat

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‘Sharknado?”

Frankly, we love the idea — posed by the recent over-the-top, made-for-TV thriller — that humongous sharks might be swept up in a tornado and rocketed through the air in a killing frenzy.

But we also loved “Jaws” and “Anaconda,” not to mention “Rodan,” “Godzilla” and “Mothra.”

Airborne sharks, gigundo snakes and prehistoric monsters?

Feet up. Lights off. Grab your popcorn.

But we feel compelled to put in a few good words for the world’s most PR-challenged fish.

The reality is that shark “attacks” are extraordinarily rare here. From 1882 to 2004 493 shark attacks were recorded in Florida and 11 of those were fatal.

Consider also that from 1959 to 2010, lightning strikes killed 459 people in Florida. Since 1985, tornadoes (minus flying sharks) killed 125 people. Sinkholes killed 16 throughout the country from 1990 to 2005. In one year — 1996 — 13,458 people were injured using chainsaws and another 138,894 fell off ladders in this country.

All of which is why marine biologists repeatedly emphasize that sharks aren’t as dangerous as we commonly think, “Sharknado” or no.

A recent study co-authored by Bob Hueter, the director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, recommended dropping the descriptive term “attack” when it came to shark-human encounters of the physical kind.

Instead, in a report in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Hueter and a colleague suggested using the terms “sightings” (seen but not bitten); “encounters” (things that only go bump in the water); “bites” (minor or moderate injury resulting); and “fatal shark bites” (obviously the worst kind.)

The point?

First, the scientists wrote, “A review of scientific literature shows that humans are ‘not on the menu’ as typical shark prey.”

If they bite us, it’s usually a case of mistaken identity.

Second, “a more prescriptive code of reporting … will serve the public interest by clarifying the true risk posed by sharks and informing better policy-making.”

Reduce the fear when we wade into the water.

“Few sharks look like the large great whites you might see on the movie screen,” Hueter wrote. “… Most shark species rarely, if ever, come into contact with humans.

Fair enough. Hueter and his colleague were talking about the water. But we’re sure it holds for sharknadoes, too.


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