Fear of sharks in open water swimming

evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
edited June 2015 in General Discussion
Sad news news out of New Zealand...


For those of you who live in "hotspots", what are some strategies you use to deal with your fears in the open water?


  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest
    I think there are two different issues here….1) One is the fear that the mind conjures up …and is what I call False Evidence Appearing Real ….This rarely happens but if it does…I just get in and swim and the fear always goes away…and 2) Is justified fear or shall I say caution in a situation that could be inherently dangerous such as swimming in an area where a large “bitter type” shark has recently been seen….. I guess it comes down to… do you want to enjoy open water swimming with all of its inherent pleasures and to share it with a community of aquatic animals. The mistaken identity of a seal in the case of a great white is usually a wet suited swimmer or a surfer or kayaker increases the possibilities…In Hawaii swimming in late afternoon or in churned water, or paddling on a board has been shown to be not too wise……I love swimming with all of my aquatic friends and am willing to take some risk…plus I am an older (or crazier swimmer) and my take on death has morphed….I think every time I confront fear whether in the water on in a particular situation and swim/walk/confront it I feel better and stronger…I have been swimming, diving, surfing in the ocean from a very young age so my perspective is likely different than most....

    Sir Sharko

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited June 2015
    Niek wrote:
    evmo Here are some shark attack statistics worldwide http://sharkattackfile.info

    OK, but my interest in this topic is more about taming emotions and fears, not rationality and statistics.
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    I’m surprised that so many OW swimmers dwell on this. As a kid.... there was Jaws, and now; Shark Week. There is so much overkill (yeah, the pun) in the media about sharks that we accept stupid terminology like “shark infested” to describe the ocean.... SHARK INFESTED!

    2012 was a busy year for GWs in Cape Cod and I can’t tell you how many emails I received the weeks prior to our P2P-Town swim with articles about sightings and attacks. Even the Plymouth harbormaster felt the need to rattle on (just a few hours before splash time) about the latest sightings in Truro.

    We had a pre-swim chat and informed the crews that if there was any sighting that could not be identified as other than GW that they should pull us.

    If there were members of the crew with experience in shark behavior, I would gladly yield to their judgement, but it would be selfish to put others in the position of trying to second guess our safety.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    I spent the weekend before the Rottnest swim with some mates at beach house south of Perth (Mandurah for those who know the area). One of my mates (who was signed up to do the relay) and I went for a short swim one morning where we swam a couple hundred meters off shore, along the coast and then back in, and walked back to the house. Every person we passed on the beach commented on "how brave/crazy" we had to be swimming out there.

    Western Australia had a rash of shark related fatalities in the last couple of years so it has definitely made the fear of shark attacks much more prominent. I saw a poll of voters (there is a state wide election coming up) that actually had shark protection as a top issue amongst voters who live near the ocean, and this despite the fact that the only recent incident anywhere near the metropolitan area was unconfirmed (they only found the bathers of the victim with tears "consistent with a GW attack").

    This is definitely a new development, brought up obviously by the increase in incidents involving sharks (which in turn is probably brought about by the increasing amount of time folk spend in the water). When I was growing up over here the only shark fatality was before my time in the 60's.

    Personally I know I tend to rationalize the attacks by thinking of them as occurring in places I am not swimming, or at times I am not swimming. This is not an actual rational process, but it does help me avoid thinking about visits from men in grey suits.

    Swimming with someone else also dramatically reduces my tendency to worry - I think probably because of the additional distraction of trying to stay with the other swimmer consumes some of the excess mental capacity that might be prone to fantasizing.

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    edited February 2013
    I deal with it by accepting the notion that I have done far more foolish things in my life. Seriously, I have never been afraid of anything in the water except once off the Baja Peninsula. At the time I was swimming in water with poor visibility due to the shore break when all of a sudden I was surrounded by a school of bait fish swimming franticly about. That was enough for me and I got out.

    I swam in the Santa Barbara for years, specifically from Rincon Point west to what has been know as the Chevron, or Venoco, Pier. I had been doing it for years before I learned that my turn around point was a mere 100 yd from a seal haul out. Talk about dumb. After that I never came closer than 400 yd. Not much smarter, but it didn't bother me.

    However, grizzly bears are another whole thing. I lived at Denali National Park for a number of years. There were certain places that I had to hike through to get where I wanted to go. I was always spooked just seeing their scat or the large areas of tundra they tore up like sod to eat tubors they found. It's the bear that you don't see that can be your biggest problem.
  • Evmo, I just accept that if it happens it happens...! I nearly met the 'guy-in-the-sky' last weekend just walking up the sand dune. About a metre in front a '''huge''' brown snake decided he had right-of-way....lucky i was not on the menu!
  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaSenior Member
    edited February 2013
    I haven't done any open water swimming in the ocean since the 1980s (I live in the Midwest, but was born and raised in SoCal). Every time I went out, I was with a group of people, and we all stayed together. I used to do a lot of body surfing, and never went alone, either. If I saw a seal swimming quickly within relatively close proximity, I was out of the water. You never know.

    It seems as though most attacks occur on single, isolated individuals. Naturally, if the shark really wants you---even if you're in a group of people--- it's probably going to get you, but having a group of people around increases the likelihood of both reducing an actual attack, and surviving an attack if it occurs.

    As an aside, I was fascinated by Ned Denison's swim. I truly thought he'd be doing very well until being pulled due to too many fins in the water. As it turned out, he and his crew nailed it. Perfect execution. Which raises a question: How effective is the Shark Shield, and how effective was it on that day?

    Keep moving forward.

  • sharkbaitzasharkbaitza LondonMember
    edited February 2013
    considering my nickname, i thought I had to weigh in on this one. Having grown up in South Africa, we were always aware of sharks in the water but having done scuba diving and cage diving, i can honestly say I don't believe that sharks have any interest in humans. I would say almost all attacks are mistaken identities and almost always on surfers and body boarders. In fact, even on those, most attacks seem to take place as they are trying to catch a wave. Possible the sudden paddling triggers the attack as it might be similar to a distressed fish. That said, I believe that shark attacks have actually reduced. GW sharks in South Africa have been protected since 1991. Before that they were actively fished as a sports fish. So it seems reasonable to propose that GW's are at there greatest numbers since possibly the early 1900's. At the same time, water sports activities have increased massively. I would guess that there are 50 to 100 times more ppl in the water off the South African coast than there were 100 years ago, possibly even more. So the chance of a shark encountering a human has increased exponentially yet the attacks have only shown a marginal increase. Certainly not as much as the statistics would predict. Is it possible that sharks, through cage-diving and more frequent human encounters, have started to recognise humans as none prey items and that most attacks occur in dirty/cloudy low vis water where the shark has not recognised the object as human? I mean, how many people that are attacked are actually eaten? They are bitten, released and left alone... unfortunately in most cases to bleed out.. but certainly not eaten. Anyway, this is what I tell myself anytime I get in the water :)
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    @emvo, I hear you. I swam the P2P last summer with Dave. There were reports of GWs in Cape Cod Bay the weeks leading up to the swim. It was all over the news. And watching shark week on the Discovery Cannel did not help. I tend to be a calm rational person. I know the odds, how huge CC Bay is and that a couple GWs and a couple swimmers in the bay would never meet, but that doesn't keep the irrational fear and panic from creeping in at times. At 4:00am, in the pitch dark, feeling all alone even with a large boat with pilot and crew watching, images and ideas of sharks started to well up in my mind. The question is how do you deal with that? How do you stop those thoughts and push them down and burry them away? I try to think of something else. Stroke rate, time to next feed, when does the sun come up, why am I doing this, this green glowing jellies are awesome, anything but the idea that a shark is coming up from the darkness below. It worked for me, but I still have the memory of that feeling of panic.
  • Swam on the other side of the Cape this summer with my husband Rob. I kept telling myself the sharks are 40 miles away. The sharks are 40 miles way. But it was seeing my relaxed looking kayaker with every breath that helped more than anything. Not that I have ever done a terribly long swim, but one thing I have learned is that feelings come and go. Also, I don't get to do much ocean swimming, so the rare times I get to do it, it is such a privlege that those feelings usually outweigh the fear (except when I see sunlight dancing on kelp - it makes scary, sharky looking shapes in my mind). I can't imagine how I would deal with the fear if I had to face it more often.
  • JanetJanet New York, NYMember
    Evan, I can definitely relate.  When I started swimming regularly with CIBBOWS a few years ago, it didn't take long for me to become very comfortable swimming at Brighton, even though I'd always previously been skittish about what else might be in the water.  I assumed that comfort would transfer to other swimming venues, specifically to the Gulf of Mexico where I spend some time in the winter.  I was dismayed to find that I was still as scared as I ever was about doing any significant swimming down here--specifically, I was afraid that I would be attacked by a shark.  Shark bites do occasionally occur here--probably bull sharks are responsible--and there have been rare deaths.  I knew the odds were very very small that such a thing would happen to me, but that didn't keep me from being afraid.

    Over the last couple of years, my fears have lessened, and I've done more swimming in the gulf.  Here's what has helped:

    1.  Being honest that there is some risk involved.  Before I ever get in, I've found it helps to think carefully and educate myself about the risks, and make a conscious decision that the risk is something I'm willing to accept in order to enjoy the pleasures of swimming in a particular locale (or, if it comes to that, that there might be certain conditions that make the risk unacceptable).   At first I thought of myself as silly or tried to convince myself there was nothing to be afraid of.  It worked better to say, hey, there's some risk involved, but it's really quite small, and it's one I'm willing to take.  Going into the water thinking "I'm more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark" was not reassuring--once the fear kicked in "it would be very rare" didn't calm it.  Saying "I share the water with some big fish, and I accept the risk in that" has worked better for me, both in my winter swimming grounds and in the Cape Cod swim that others have mentioned.

    2.  Visualization.  This may seem crazy, but visualizing encountering a shark--seeing a dark shape below me, swimming over it, feeling how scared I would be, imagining myself nonetheless swimming calmly until it was past, then heading into shore quickly but safely--has helped me be more sanguine about the fact that there probably are sharks out there somewhere in the waters where I swim.  Since it's unrealistic to expect myself not to think of them at all, I try to preempt any terrifying thoughts that might come to my mind unbidden by grooving innocuous or empowering images in my mind.  For the CC swim, one of my favorite images was of sharks swimming peaceably below, us swimming on the surface, each of us going about our business and not paying much attention to the other.  

    3.  Distraction. If I'm out swimming and find myself getting that uneasy feeling and wanting to look all around me to make sure nothing's there, I focus on something else.  It works best if I rehearse what I'm going to distract myself with before I get in the water.   One of my favorite things is to think about how the water feels as I'm moving through it--on my fingers, my palms, my forearms, my shoulders, my face, my lips, etc. on down my body (and back up again if that's necessary).  Do the waves make one side feel difference than the other?  Can I feel water passing over my tongue if I stick it out?  Is the sun warming up my back?  This seems to relax me and makes me pay attention to something besides shadows in the water.  In Cape Cod, I planned to distract myself with thoughts of sunfish--a creature I very much wanted to see--anytime I imagined I was seeing something in the water below me. It's hard to feel too jittery when you're saying "Sunfish sunfish sunfish sunfish sunfish" 5 time fast. :)

    Finally, something I've thought of but haven't tried--yet--is enlisting the help of one of the dive shops around here to go out for a snorkeling tour.  I don't scuba dive, but it occurs to me that people who do tend to have a much more positive view of the possibility of encountering ocean life than I do.  It would be nice to go out for a swim thinking "Hey, I wonder what cool things I will see today," rather than thinking "If I see anything moving out here in the water I'm going to jump out of my skin."  I think being around people who have that more positive attitude, and learning more about the local wildlife from them, would probably help allay my fears further.

    Sorry for the long post, but that's what worked for me so far.  I haven't gotten rid of the shark fears yet, but they've lessened considerably.  Let me know what works for you!
  • I can relate. And the short answer is there is nothing any of us can say that will allay your primal fear of sharks. Statistics and platitudes will not dispel irrational fears.

    It’s up to your rational mind to overcome these fears. And of course it helps to follow basic shark encounter avoidance guidelines. The Florida Museum of Natural History (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/education/questions/Attack.html#avoid ) has good list. My favorite is “do not harass a shark if you see one!”

    "Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy."
    Dale Carnegie
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    Janet wrote:
    2.  Visualization.  This may seem crazy, but visualizing encountering a shark--seeing a dark shape below me, swimming over it, feeling how scared I would be, imagining myself nonetheless swimming calmly until it was past, then heading into shore quickly but safely--has helped me be more sanguine about the fact that there probably are sharks out there somewhere in the waters where I swim.  Since it's unrealistic to expect myself not to think of them at all, I try to preempt any terrifying thoughts that might come to my mind unbidden by grooving innocuous or empowering images in my mind.  For the CC swim, one of my favorite images was of sharks swimming peaceably below, us swimming on the surface, each of us going about our business and not paying much attention to the other.  

    Insanely great advice.
  • One training swim in the Pacific near San Diego I saw a seal in the water. Where there are seals there are likely sharks, so I headed in.

    Now to prepare for a race I head to the Circle K, get a straw and suck it up :)
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited February 2013
    Wow, some incredibly valuable advice in these responses. Thanks, everyone!

    I think I most relate to @gregoc's response. I have a fear of sharks, but for the most part, it is "managed." It does not prevent me from attempting big swims I want to do (in Greg's case P2P, in my case, the Santa Barbara Channel).

    However - also like @gregoc - there are moments of panic that are disturbing and uncomfortable. For me, even seeing a sudden and unexpected clump of kelp below me can trigger a momentary panic response. I wish I knew how to get beyond these momentary lapses in rationality.

    For me, the most effective strategy is distraction (@Janet's point #3). On my two big swims in this area (Catalina and Santa Cruz Island), I remained calm throughout. I was distracted by my kayaker and crew, and most of all, by the purpose and mental focus of a big channel swim.

    In everyday training swims, I'm more likely to panic because I'm less focused and purposeful. My mind wanders to the irrelevant things below me. In this case, it helps to have a training partner to provide distraction.

    If I find myself getting derailed by kelp, another thing that helps is simply to close my eyes under water (only opening them to sight).

    PS, Janet - really amazing post. Thank you.
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    edited February 2013

    I came upon this blog post a few days ago. Some beautiful imagery and some thoughts relevant to this discussion. Among my favorite paragraphs:
    I have given instructions that when I die my body will be cremated and that some of the ashes will be dropped into the ocean where I swim. While I sincerely believe that no harm will come to me from a shark, if I am wrong, oh well, it cuts out the middleman. What could be hipper than a green burial.
    Om Mani Padme Hum.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    edited February 2013
    smith wrote:
    As an aside, I was fascinated by Ned Denison's swim. Which raises a question: How effective is the Shark Shield, and how effective was it on that day?
    Impossible to know. On Penny Palfrey's Cayman Islands swim, the shark shield was employed, and white tips continued to crash the party. So.... I wouldn't depend on it.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • It’s up to your rational mind to overcome these fears. And of course it helps to follow basic shark encounter avoidance guidelines. The Florida Museum of Natural History (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/education/questions/Attack.html#avoid ) has good list. My favorite is “do not harass a shark if you see one!”
    My favorite is "avoid uneven tanning".

    I think the distraction method will keep the momentary panic responses coming back. I'd suggest the opposite. Indulge in it when it next occurs. Detail an excessively dramatic scenario. Pump it for all it's worth.

    As an off-topic aside, I don't know of any existing data that allows one to assess the risk of a shark accident during a distance swim. Looking at the sharkattackfile, for example, as a source of data to assess risk may calm one's nerves, but would do so irrationally.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited February 2013
    oxo wrote:
    As an off-topic aside, I don't know of any existing data that allows one to assess the risk of a shark accident during a distance swim. Looking at the sharkattackfile, for example, as a source of data to assess risk may calm one's nerves, but would do so irrationally.
    It's not off-topic at all. Every shark-accident statistic I've ever heard quoted fails to understand conditional probability. The risk of a shark accident in general is irrelevant to ocean swimmers. What matters is the risk of a shark accident, given that you are a (daily, weekly) ocean swimmer (in location X). The latter, of course, is much higher than the former.
  • WalterWalter Southern CaliforniaMember
    Shark attaccidents are rare, I know; and despite many hours of swimming in La Jolla Cove with lots of seals and sea lions, I have never been killed by a shark; but I expect my luck to change; and sometimes, when I am very cold and especially tired, I wish that it would.

    I'm not very popular around here; but I've heard that I'm huge in Edinburgh!

  • oxooxo Guest
    edited February 2013
    evmo wrote:
    Every shark-accident statistic I've ever heard quoted fails to understand conditional probability. The risk of a shark accident in general is irrelevant to ocean swimmers. What matters is the risk of a shark accident, given that you are a (daily, weekly) ocean swimmer (in location X). [snip]
    I fully agree. I'd make the minor point that unless risk has a bizarre structure across locations and activity, such as uniformity for example, there necessarily are ocean locations where former is higher than the latter.

  • rosemarymintrosemarymint Charleston, SCCharter Member
    A couple of months ago I was talking with the area marine stranding expert (I live in Atlantic City NJ) and he seemed almost gleeful in telling me the shark risks in the water right by my house, talking in gruesome detail and not recognizing my cues that I really did not want to know. Yes I know they are out there, yes I know sometimes the really big ones come close to shore (more like bull sharks and the occasional thresher around my part of the east coast.) Yes I know they eat things. I accept that wildlife is part of the swim. That's one reason why I prefer to be in the ocean and not the pool. I just don't need to know about all the sightings that, let's face it, often are inflated by people seeking a good story. (Those who know what I do for a living, stop laughing. Seriously, stop it!)

    I have a rule of telling people who ask about sharks (sometimes incessantly or in a phobia-like froth) that if something happens while I'm out there, to know I died doing what I loved most and that I likely didn't suffer. We accept risks when we go in the water -- a risk that non-swimmers don't grasp or want to accept. That's their thing, this is mine. I make it a point to almost obsessively study the body of water I'll be in and therefore I know what I'm up against (at least for the most part.) Knowledge is power and it also allows me to accept what's there and move on emotionally.

    That said, I definitely have days when I'm a little nervous in the water because I have a hunch I'm not alone (and when I get on land and put my glasses on and can see the bird patterns, I'm often right.) I have moments where, like @evmo, I have random panicky moments because I touched something weird or I can't see. I also have days where that hunch gets to be too much and I just cut my workout short and go in. When in doubt, get out. I have firm rules about safety practices and if I'm in water where I know the fish might lack bones and have big teeth, you bet I will defer to whomever I've put in charge of my safety or my own self-trigger if I'm alone. I think I've just rationalized that these moments are part of the experience, if you will. When was the last time you had an adrenaline rush in the pool?

    This summer I had a few weird moments, including getting bumped hard by something pretty big. I swim about 100 yards from shore, often in water I can stand in. The water was shockingly warm all year and there had been numerous reports of bull sharks in water similar to what I'd been in and I had just written about the issue, no less. You better believe I turned around and went in. I didn't go back in for a few days. It happens.
  • sharkbaitzasharkbaitza LondonMember
    You can check if it's safe here...


    disclaimer: Not all sharks are tagged :)
  • nvr2latenvr2late Central VirginiaCharter Member
    I live in Virginia and have vacationed on the beaches of North Carolina all my life. For some reason I had this idea that GW sharks only inhabited the waters of South Africa or Australia. My kids and I used to spend literally hours on end, out in the ocean, at times a good distance from shore. My brother in law, who loves to fish, routinely would land a baby shark in his surf casting. Even that did not lead me to the obvious conclusion that there were adult sharks just off shore. Only recently have I become aware, as many of you may have, of Ocearch -


    I could not have been more misinformed. The tagged GW sharks have been up and down the East Coast, at times, within 200 yards of shore, and these are just the TAGGED ones. I will never have the same sense of "ignorance is bliss" in my ocean swims again. I will come to terms with this knowledge, and it remains to be seen how it will affect my ocean swimming in the future. Reading the posts on this thread has given me some tools to help regain my sense of comfort and safety in the ocean. I know that I will never feel the same sense of "sharks are the other guys problem" again. And, I will be more inclined to worry as my kids and grandkids race with great glee, into the surf each summer. But our love of the ocean will remain.

  • nvr2latenvr2late Central VirginiaCharter Member
    One GW shark in particular, Mary Lee, has been tracked up and down the East Coast.
    Should I check on her whereabouts before we head to the beach this summer? It is tempting, now that the information is available. Certainly she is not the only one out there anyway? What would I do with that knowledge? What would you do? Any advice from forum members? This is just a hypothetical question but one that I am going to have to give some thought. At one point, the knowledge that she was within 200 yards of a beach (Jacksonville, I recall), forced the closing of that beach for a time.
  • JanetJanet New York, NYMember

    Yes, I also do fine as long as I'm swimming with others, or accompanied by a kayaker, or doing specific events--it's those more casual solo swims that can be a problem, especially when they're in less familiar waters.  There's something about being out there all by my lonesome that makes my mind turn to what else might be in the water with me.  

    And I didn't mean to suggest that it's possible to completely know what the risk of shark accidents is at any given locale.  My point was more to do whatever information gathering and consideration of the odds you need to do before you get in the water.  I know that for me, trying to reassure fears by telling myself just how very very small the risk actually is is a failing strategy . . . mainly because myself will argue back that the sample size of those venturing beyond the sandbar along my particular stretch of beach during the winter is . . well . . . just me, plus the very occasional surfer, so that makes any statistical analysis suspect.  And so what was meant to be a reassurance turns into an internal debate, and I'm lost.

    Info that I do find reassuring is how little interest sharks tend to have in humans generally.  I know we've all seen those overhead shots of beaches crowded with bathers happily cavorting, with the dark outline of a shark startlingly close to the action.  Yet for the most part the big fish find their elevenses elsewhere, and rarely even let us know of their presence.  

    I think of one of my elderly relatives who has become afraid when she's alone in her house.  She's convinced that the world is full of bad people who are intent on breaking into her home, stealing her things, and harming her.  It's sad to see, and no amount of reassurance--crime in her area is very low, she has multiple locks and an alarm, etc--seems to help.  I don't want my own sense of vulnerability to make me that person in the water, startling at every shadow and thinking the ocean is full of beasties out to devour me.  I set out this winter to do what I could to lessen my uneasiness.  It helps to remind myself: Sharks--they're just not that into us.

    So this is how my reasoning goes: it's entirely possible that I will at swim in the vicinity of sharks, it's unlikely on any given swim that I will see one; it's extremely unlikely that I'll ever get bitten by one; and the odds are infinitesimally small that I would end up maimed or killed from a shark accident.  Those are odds I'm willing to accept to do something I love.   

    And nvr2late, I don't know what the answer is to your questions.  In the area where I swim in NW Florida, sharks are also sometimes caught by shore fishermen, and not just baby ones.  Fishing for them intentionally from shore is illegal, as is chumming.  I kind of keep an eye on anyone fishing in the area where I swim, and ask them whether they are catching anything (in the winter the answer is almost always no), what sort of bait they're using (usually just shrimp, but be prepared for a long drawn out answer on the pros and cons of various things), plus I make sure to ask how far out I need to swim to avoid their lines (so they'll think of me as friendly and cooperative, hopefully).  They're actually a pretty good source of info about what wildlife might be in the area, since they stand around staring at the water most of the day.  You might want to consider them as a resource if you're inclined to gather more info about the areas where you'll be swimming.
  • JbetleyJbetley UKMember
    I got the fear when swimming off South Beach Miami the other day. It was a combo of not knowing the locale, being very much on my own, and 'seeing things' in the water. I am not sure there really were things, or whether it was all imaginary, but after 15 minutes or so I just decided to go in. I guess when you are not happy, you just leave. I don't have problem being irrational!
  • Mike_GemelliMike_Gemelli Rutherford, NJMember
    Janet wrote:
    Finally, something I've thought of but haven't tried--yet--is enlisting the help of one of the dive shops around here to go out for a snorkeling tour.  I don't scuba dive, but it occurs to me that people who do tend to have a much more positive view of the possibility of encountering ocean life than I do.  It would be nice to go out for a swim thinking "Hey, I wonder what cool things I will see today," rather than thinking "If I see anything moving out here in the water I'm going to jump out of my skin."  I think being around people who have that more positive attitude, and learning more about the local wildlife from them, would probably help allay my fears further.

    Great post Janet, I especially agree with your last thought above. Whenever my travels have put me within a reasonable drive of a coast, I would always be sure to have my mask and snorkel (and when possible a surfboard). Although I maintain a healthy respect for wildlife, after years of surfing, spearfishing and exploring I find myself looking for wildlife(and happily excited when I spot it) instead of fearing it.

    While visiting La Jolla on a surfing trip about 10 years ago(before I ever considered open water swimming) I had a particularly cool experience with the leopard sharks there. While my friend assured me that they were 'harmless' it still took a few minutes to get used to snorkeling with schools of good sized sharks. After the initial breaking in though, I was transfixed by the sheer numbers of them in fairly shallow water.

    I'm sure the Cove regulars could add some more details though...

  • oxooxo Guest
    edited March 2013
    Off the Marine Room, La Jolla Shores ...


  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    If I saw a big "C" with a circle around it on the bottom, I'd freak out.
  • I've been visiting La Jolla this week while following this thread and swimming every day between the lifeguard tower and the Marine Room. Ever since I saw Oxo's picture I've been nervous and jumpy especially when going by the Marine Room (a great fancy restaurant by the way). Fortunately, I haven't seen any leopard sharks. I have seen a sea lion, seals, dolphins, a neat looking jelly fish safely down deep, and a whale (This one only from my hotel room). My mantra has been the one my pilot from Tampa Bay gave me, "Don't worry about it. You're not on the menu". It had been working but felt a little weak after reading the NZ article and then reading someone else using it in the comments section. It didn't quite take off the bone chill. My previous mantra had been "We have a deal. I don't eat them. They don't eat me." I don't buy anything made from sharks or eat shark if I see it on a restaurant menu. I know I have more important issues to worry about this week; acclimating to the 57 - 59 F water, stroke technique in the swells, keeping my RPM up, etc, but I can't help studying the bottom by the Marine Room extra hard now! My broader view of life is that when its your time, its your time. I just try not to do anything to expedite that.
  • oxooxo Guest
    edited March 2013
    bobswims wrote:
    If I saw a big "C" with a circle around it on the bottom, I'd freak out.
    I was about to post something snarky about the 'symbol' actually being a shallow water variant of the surface phenomenon known as bow waves, in this case induced by the two sharks at its center and enhanced by me during postprocessing. Given the number of engineering courses in fluid dynamics that I've taken, most at the graduate level, I wouldn't have been, er, hurling-from-the-ditch, I suppose.

    But then I thought of that ubiquitous bumper sticker "Snark less, Help more". So I googled the query "how to behave like a shark", thinking it would lead to helpful tips gleaned (via text-analytics on big-data) from research on shark behaviour ... that is, helpful tips regarding how to not freakout at a circle-C in the sand, as the sharks in the photo seem at ease with at least the one they're amidst. Anyway, one of the top search results was this page:


    ... which is a French to English translation by Richard Johns of Voltaire Cousteau's Landerian advice to sponge divers back in the wee 1800s, as given in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 1987; 30: 486-489.

    Well, of all things, PiBM is online only back to the year 2000. Interestingly, though, the journal has since published another piece on sharks, this time by the late Gordon Bendersky:

    Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 45.3 (2002) 426-432

    He titled it The Original "Jaws" Attack. At length, it spares no facet on John Singleton Copley's 1778 painting Watson and the Shark:

    967px-Watsonandtheshark-original.jpg(notice the absence of a wetsuit, hail to the true marathon swimmers!)

    A pediatric cardiologist turned medical historian who studied sports injuries, Bendersky promulgated that Copely's painting "documents what appears to be the earliest authenticated record of a shark attack". Bendersky goes on to footnote his statement with "The earliest non-attested image of a shark attack is the 12.5" terracotta effigy of an anthropomorphic shark swallowing a small human, dating from approximately 100 AD, and found in Colima, in southwest Mexico. The earliest image of a shark per se is that of La Mojarra Stela, dating from the late first millennium BC or early first millennium AD, and found in the state of Veracruz, Mexico."

    Copley produced the painting in 1778 under commission by the victim, Brook Watson, who had as yet not entered onto London's political stage, though the work (now curated at the USA's National Gallery of Art) would imbue a notoriety sufficient to allow Watson to rise to great heights thereupon thereafter. Apparently, Watson attained his key to political success in 1749 when, at the age of 14, he was out swimming alone in less than channel-attire in Havanna harbour. Bendersky provides this newspaper excerpt:

    Being at a distance of about one hundred yards from [the merchant ship] the men in the boat, who were waiting for the Captain to go on shore, were struck with horror on perceiving a shark making towards him as his devoted prey. The monster was already too near him for the youth to be timely apprized of his danger; and the sailors had the afflicted sight of seeing him seized and precipitated down the flood with his voracious assailant, before they could put off to attempt his deliverance. They however hastened towards the place where they had disappeared, in anxious expectation of seeing the body rise. In about two minutes they discovered the body rise at about a hundred yards distance, but ere they could reach him, he was a second time seized by the shark, and again sunk from their sight. The sailors now took the precaution to place a man in the bow of the boat, provided with a hook to strike the fish, should it appear within reach, and repeat its attempt at seizing the body. In less than two minutes they discovered the youth on the surface of the water, and the monster still in eager pursuit of him; and at the very instant he was about to be seized the third time, the shark was struck with the boat hook, and driven from his prey. (Miles 1993)

    Yikes! With adrenaline thus flowing and appetite thus whetted, I, some how, frenzied over to this bit of enlightenment:


    Hunnh? then I realized that the accepted response, very well written by @bobnice (I complement you on your 4431 reps), was actually intended to be a Wygantian allegory on the futility of addressing our primal fear of sharks with regexes. Nicely done bobnice!

    Admittedly, all this is so tl;dr.

    But if you found this entertaining in the least, then please consider making a proportionate donation directly to a charity of your choice. On the otherside, if you found this irritating in the least and would rather that I had spent the time swimming, then please consider making a disproportionately large donation to my personal swim fund.
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    I spent two weeks swimming 100 miles down the coast in Sea of Cortez, camping on the beach at night wherever I chose to come ashore. After one week I turned around and swam back to where I started from. Didnt see a single shark. I was both disapointed and grateful. I wore a shark shield all the time.
  • oxooxo Guest
    edited March 2013
    Similarly, years ago I spent two weeks diving in the Sea of Cortez off a live-a-board, mostly along the southern extent. I saw sharks on two dives only, of about 56 total, and that was when we went looking for the hammerheads at El Bajo, a sea-mount known for their congregations.

  • For whatever its worth, my jitters about the critters in the water just went away this week with time in the water. I'm on a 2 week swimming vacation in California. I did a week in La Jolla where I was fairly nervous and am now doing a week just a little north of Ventura going 3 times a day for an hour or two in the ocean. Yesterday and today I finally got in a good stroke rythmn and all concern for the big fish fell away and all my dry land problems fell away too. Nothing pushes my reset button better than a good ocean zen swim. There's something about having the right rythmn and stroke with the waves and seeing nothing but open ocean off the right side. I love swim vacations; swim, eat, swim, eat, swim, eat, swim......
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited August 2013
    I think he was just playing. According to the local experts, the little guy is likely sick and blind, so the laughter seems unfortunate in retrospect.
  • rosemarymintrosemarymint Charleston, SCCharter Member
    The likely sick and blind sure is apparent seeing the little guy rolling in the surf.

    That said, now all Aquatic Cove needs is a sign that says "Warning: Shark infested waters. Swim at your own risk."
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited June 2014
    Okay, I couldn't decide which thread to put this bit of fun in, so I chose this thread for the title (fear) rather than the subject (sharks). I guess most of us get asked about dealing with fear of open water, and I like to creep people out where possible.

    I made this following a recent blog post about swimming in the pitch black lake water of Glendalough, and @emkhowley liking how I deliberately summon monsters to entertain myself.

    I've always like the mythical notions of Leviathan and Kraken, and Nietzsche's "gaze long enough into the abyss and the abyss will look back" as applied to open water swimming. Both the eye and the feet are my own. :-)




  • emkhowleyemkhowley Boston, MACharter Member
    That's such an awesome image. I need to put that up on the wall. Love when the Abyss blinks back.

    Stop me if you've heard this one...
    A grasshopper walks into a bar...

  • I used to think that the waters in Casco Bay were too cold for sharks. But even then I still had the nagging understanding that, in the ocean I am at the disadvantage. Bring any ocean critter on land and I'll kick its rear end! Same with me in the water. No matter how big and bad I think I am on land...

    True story... I was a swim instructor for the Fresh Air Fund in upstate NY. This is a program where they take kid from the poorest sections of New York City and send them to the country for two weeks. A great program. Kids raised to be tough as nails get a different perspective on life.

    Anyway, they had a pond and this pond had an aluminum dock that floated on Styrofoam(?). In one particular spot there was a nesting Sunfish. She was about 3 inches (10cm) long. If you stood there, she would come out and bite you! This was around the summer decade of Jaws! And so if a tough guy thought he was going to give me a hard time, I'd have him stand over there. Sure enough, the sunny would come out and bite him. He never gave me a hard time again. Worked every time.

    As I was swimming this week, a thought came to me to help me get through the "Shark" excuse. It has to do with the idea that a shark looks up and thinks you look like a tasty seal. What occurred to me was that, given my swimming style and my long bony legs, any shark looking up is more likely to think I look like drift wood than a seal!

    I think it was Woody Allen that said, "I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." (if not then I'll lay claim to it.)
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    Keep your enemy closer?


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber
    edited June 2014
    This is more of a "fear of swimming or water" and it's not mine... but it brought me to tears yesterday.
    Good friends from SF moved to Saipan(!!). They obviously both love the water... and are semi-retired. Emma has found that she is wonderful w people who no NOTHING about swimming... and yes there is alot of fear about the water on these islands. I asked her what her trick was.. as I have NO skill in teaching you if you can't swim at least 25 yards...Here is what she wrote

    I fall in love with them.

    I hold their hands and speak softly and combine that with jumping up and down and screaming happily like a maniac when they do ANYTHING in the direction of improvement. I had a little boy who was so afraid, he almost left fingernail marks in my arms the first day. Yesterday he could've floated forever totally relaxed. I was shocked. Then he streamlined off the wall kicking and blowing bubbles and did five "switch" (aka rotary) arms when I had only asked him for three. Again, I was totally impressed. I love turning them around towards the wall and saying "look how far you swam". I pushed him back to the wall. When he got there his little face (5 years old), that is usually so stoic/frightened/concerned, looked towards the parents bench and completely changed to lighthouse brightness. His smile was like the heavens opening up. So unexpected. So priceless.

    I basically teach the same way with the adults. I had a woman who was deathly afraid of the water. During the first lesson, I taught her to float peacefully for minutes enjoying the clouds. How often as adults do we get to do that? Well, you and I whenever we like, but the average woman who lives in poverty, not so much. By the end of class I had her kick off the wall streamlining, gently flutter kicking, and using her arms like a breaststroke pulldown repeatedly until she got to the flags, then turn over and float, then stand. We both cried. ****

    So, it's a little "out there" maybe for this post... but I think that the LOVE of swimming and the LOVE of sharing and teaching... can overcome some of the FEAR. If we remember WHY we swim... then the fear and even maybe sometimes the pain can be mitigated.
  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    Great post Suzie, thanks.

    I love teaching 4-5 year olds for this very reason, the "lighthouse" moment....when the little guy who cried and clung to my neck like an octopus suddenly realizes he can swim like a beaver. Yep, priceless!

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • ttriventtriven Senior Member
    After reading all the posts, I've decided that the way I would deal with the fear is get a Shark Shield. However, the price is a deterrent to me. $700 or so for something that sometimes on some sharks maybe slows their approach, or maybe deters them. Or maybe not. So I must not be that scared? If I could get one for less I would do it. I'm about $350 scared. Not $700. So until I get $700 scared, I will enjoy the adrenalin the fear creates. In fact, I might have the crew tell me they see something suspicious, just to get me to swim faster.
  • tortugatortuga Senior Member
    "I'm about $350 scared." That's funny
  • heartheart San Francisco, CACharter Member
    edited July 2014
    From my blog yesterday:


    We talk so much about prepping and training and feeding and finishing and stroke, and the only thing we don't talk about is fear.

    Actually, that's not true - over at the forums there's an entire thread about fear and open water. But it's a thread about sharks and monsters and the like. Those are easy fears to talk about. We can all tout around statistics and talk about occurrences and laugh nervously together and feel better.

    There's another fear that I find much more interesting, much more deep. The fear we don't talk about is the fear that you--trained, experienced, athletic you--won't be up to the task. That you'll fall short. That you'll be found wanting.

    That the niggling dull sensitivity in your biceps tendon will turn into pain, and you won't get the pain out of your mind. That your feet will cramp. That the new idea you had about feeding won't work. That your body will punish you for undertraining, for not training properly, for your laziness, your errors in judgment, your human vulnerability, with some craptastic surprise hypothermia.

    That the dark voices in your head, saying What Are You Doing This For and Why Not Give Up and Is This What Life Is Made Of will win. That you'll become bored and unmotivated. That in the middle, the voice that always--always!--says, What's The Point will poison your insides.

    That your friends and relatives, who click refresh obsessively your SPOT tracker page will see the orange line end in the middle of a body of water, and will know that you failed yourself. That all the people helping you, your kayaker or your boat or your crew or the race director and all the volunteers will see you come back on shore on the boat. That the immediate relief of not swimming, of being on the boat, will convert into shame and disappointment. That you will forever speak about the swim feeling that shame reincarnate within you.

    That it'll be cold. That you won't see the landmarks. That you'll sight wrong. That you'll be so slow that they'll have to reposition you, remove you from the water, ask you to pick up the pace. That in your frustration and pain, you'll say things you regret to your crew.

    In short: What you really fear, in those long hours in the dark, is that the race will show you who you really are.

    My lovely, beautiful, driven swimming friends: You only live once. Go out there. Whatever needs to happen, will. It will be whatever it will be. In the grand scheme of things, all that matters is love and belonging. And those who really love you, where you really belong, will love and embrace you no matter what happens tomorrow at the race. Love yourself and embrace yourself. Tomorrow is just one more day you get to swim.

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member
    @heart: Well said. You should post this on the DNF thread as well. Thank you
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    heart wrote:
    That your friends and relatives, who click refresh obsessively your SPOT tracker page will see the orange line end in the middle of a body of water, and will know that you failed yourself.

    When my 'tracker' (an android app on my brother's phone) stopped updating during the Rottnest swim last year my friends decided to start dividing up my worldly possessions. I have the best friends! :D

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • JacqueJacque M. (Germany)Member
    Great post, @heart, thanks!
    What you described is exactly the sort of fear that I sometimes experience, now that my swims get longer and longer after I finally switched to OW (so no longer any fear of OW) and since there are no sharks in my swimming territory. Preparing for how to deal with this sort of fear became as important for me as the preparation for the physical, logistic and nutritional challenges of marathon swimming. Luckily, I have a coworker who works part-time as a personal trainer and mental coach and we’ve had a lot of good, long lunch breaks to talk about strategies to deal with it. As with everything else (like nutrition) I tested a lot and what it finally boils down to are three components that so far work for me:
    (1) In case of any doubt (“I can’t make it…”, “It’s too cold…”) I remember my gained competences and my training with everything that I did to prepare for this swim (e.g. “I did swim xx sessions with xx kilometres”, “I did xx hard series of intervals and I felt a lot worse than now”, “I did swim longer in colder water than this”) and with everything that I put myself through already (“These waves are not as high as the ones on the xx swim”).
    (2) In case of pain, cramps or any discomfort I intentionally shift my focus to other and smaller things (e.g. the next feeding break, the next stroke, how my fingertips are entering the water) – the more discomfort, the smaller my focus.
    (3) In the inevitable case of the occurrence of the uncountable variations of the “Why-Question” during the swim (“Why on earth did I choose OW-swimming and not playing the triangle for a hobby?”) I have already prepared and tested answers, that I give myself in an sometimes very loud argument in my head (e.g. I remember myself that I love swimming, I think of all the fantastic “flows” that I already experienced swimming, I visualize myself reaching the shore in a picture with intense colours and try to imagine, what I will feel and do at this point).

    In addition to how you deal with it yourself is the question, how your crew should deal with you in this situation (e. g. Do I really want an answer to my “How far is it”- questions?, Do I need to be pushed and screamed at or do I need the exact opposite? When is the right time to throw in the jelly beans for motivation?) – but I think this was already covered in another discussion.

    This all may sound crazy, but I am very glad to have some sort of a strategy for how to deal with this dark mental side of marathon swimming, because I felt very helpless the first couple of times that I was in that place. I also think that this needs testing (there are a lot of different strategies out there and what works for you will be as individual as your nutrition scheme) and training, too – like everything else we do.
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