Sharks. For some, the mere word is scary enough to avoid the Atlantic Ocean on a hot summer day.
The fear is real and has a name. The condition is known as galeophobia.
Whether you believe it or not, when you step into the ocean you are literally swimming with the fishes. These ocean predators coexist peacefully with surfers and sun bathers, and chances are you are not even aware of their presence.
In fact, very few are lucky enough to meet one of these majestic marine beasts.
According to Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University, sharks should be embraced.
“People fear sharks when they should respect them. When you go to the beach you should be comforted knowing there are sharks swimming in the surf line,” said Abel. “A healthy ocean needs its sharks so we shouldn’t fear them.”
Abels says humans are the sharks biggest threat. Humans catch them for their fins, that is used in shark fin soup, or they are caught and used as trophies.
Abel knows what he is talking about; he has been studying sharks for more than 30 years. Every year he holds a semester at sea where students get an up close and personal look at these guardians of the ocean.
Abel says most of the time sharks have no interest in humans. Yes, sharks are predators, but none of them have humans as a regular prey on their menu. Sharks prefer smaller fish like squid and shrimp. But Abel says, there are some things you can do to prevent a trip to the hospital.
“Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. That is when many sharks feed,” said Abel. “Avoid swimming near piers where people are fishing and if you see a school of fish, get out of the water.”
“No, that does not mean they are coming after you. Most of the time people see a wave or a dolphin,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department. “Sharks rarely do this, and when they do, they may be chasing prey that swam up to the surface.”
Again, there is a small chance that a shark will bite you, but if you do go in the ocean here are some more tips to make that risk even lower.