Oceans of Opportunity

swimming in sharky waters


'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiThe recent news that ultra swimmer Penny Palfrey’s team went so far as killing three sharks to enable her recent record is nothing short of appalling. Palfrey’s record to conduct a 67 mile ocean swim in the Caymans was nearly cut short as she was approached by several oceanic white tip sharks, so when it came down to breaking a record, or getting out of the water for personal safety – they killed the sharks.

A few points jump out at me with this. First is that ‘records’ are nonsensical feats. While they do measure limits of human performance of oneself, or while pushing a technology, they are not undertakings essential to our immediate survival. Record breaking for sake of record breaking is a ‘stunt’, and with ‘stunts’ come incidents and accidents that are generally appalling from the public perspective. Second, know when to quit. If the pursuit of the record is causing imminent danger, abort the mission. Third, the environment in which the record is pursued is a factor in pursuing the record, and any concern needs to go into the logistical planning in advance of the record attempt. Ocean swim – sharks are a factor – plan on how to deal with it ahead of time, and this does not include butchering the animals with machetes as in this case.
Summertime BluesNow, I’ve been in the water with oceanic white tips, and yes, they are feisty as far as sharks go. They are also better known for human attacks than many other species, so I understand the concern for being in the water with them. So, frankly, don’t stay in the water if they are causing concern.

This news crossed my desk just a few short days before I head out on my annual blue shark journey here in Rhode Island, and adds a layer of appreciation for the entire experience. The ocean is their home, and we are visitors. We are intruders in this alien environment, and acting irresponsibly as a guest in someone else’s house doesn’t invite a warmed welcome at the next visit. Human activity in the oceans is generally irresponsible, and until that changes, all of the challenges that our oceans face as the result of human activity will continue to become more challenging – we are unfortunately on a downward spiral.

Each year, I venture offshore to swim with blue sharks as a healthy reminder of our role in their waters. We are visitors, and they are the controlling force in the oceans. Without them, the oceans suffer, and we suffer. Without us, they do just fine…chew on that for awhile folks.

References

Schultz, L. P. (0). Shark Attacks: Worldwide records through 1960 show when and where predaceous sharks are likely to attack man. Science, 134(3472), 87-88. DOI: 10.1126/science.134.3472.87

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