Dear Shark Experts and Statisticians,
The facts and statistics you use to try and alleviate people’s fear of sharks are impressive. I’m afraid of sharks, but it helps to know that, statistically, I shouldn’t be so scared. In order to make my fear seem irrational, you’ve trawled an ocean of information and found rare plights that are more common than shark attacks.
One of the most popular statistics which you tout is that I’m more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark. That doesn’t put me at ease in the ocean. Do you know what the chances of being struck by lightning are on a cloud-free, sunny day? Absolutely zero. I like those odds. Whereas every time I go into the ocean, I’m sharing the water with the oldest predator on the planet. I don’t care how slim the chances of getting attacked are, it’s still a hauntingly real possibility.
My favorite statistic is that I’m more likely to die getting crushed by a vending machine than die by a shark. There’s an average of 1 death per year in the U.S. from shark attacks and an average of 2 deaths per year from vending machines.
This still does nothing to quell my fear.
All this means is that every year there are two desperate dumbasses who think that they’ve found the secret to a free snack, but, instead of saving $1.25, they end up getting crushed to death by a vending machine. I'm not more likely to die getting crushed by a vending machine than I am attacked by a shark.
Now, it would be a different story if—like sharks—vending machines had a mind of their own and were known to attack humans on occasion. It's not like I’m going to be out for a walk in the park only to be attacked by a stealthy vending machine that pops out from behind a tree.
Another fact you use to try and calm people’s fear is that most attacks are an accident because sharks mistake people for seals. That's supposed to make me feel better? I don't want a shark to mistake me for a seal any more than I want a grizzly bear to mistake me for a salmon, or a lion to mistake me for a zebra.
Your follow-up fact to being mistaken for a seal is even less comforting: sharks don’t like the taste of humans. You tell me they will often spit out whatever limb they’ve just torn off once they realize it’s not seal. That's terrible consolation. It's like being mugged and someone trying to cheer you up by telling you that the mugger wasn't happy with the amount of money you had in your wallet.
I'm not trying to be a fearmonger and I know sharks aren’t malicious killers like some real-life Jaws. My issue is that their only means of determining what’s edible is the use of their razor-filled mouths. If I’m in the ocean and some hungry shark comes along but can’t quite tell if I’m a seal or not, he’s not going to play it safe. He’s going to take a frigging bite out of me like he’s the Mike Tyson of the sea and I’m Evander Holyfield’s ear.
To a hungry shark, I’m that weird dish at the buffet that he’s not quite sure about: I could be delicious, or he could take one bite and leave the rest on the plate.
What terrifies me most about sharks is how defenseless I would be against one. I could be Michael Phelps (not the stoned, partying Phelps either—I’m talking primed for the Olympic pool Phelps), with a head start, and still not stand a chance of trying to outswim a shark. In the water, I’m a sitting duck. Worse, a duck has the option of flying away: I’m just sitting.
You advise that in the rare event of an attack my best bet is to punch the shark in the nose. Right, right. This shark is born to maneuver through the water, but just wait until I release my perfectly aimed, lightning-quick, underwater punch. Besides, it’s not like sharks’ noses are anywhere near their gaping mouths.
I know you’ve got a job to do and it’s not an easy one. What can we tell people to help make them less afraid of sharks? I applaud your efforts and imagination. You’ve shared a lot of information to educate people. Thanks to you, I find sharks fascinating, beautiful, and I think they should be protected.
However, I’m still afraid of sharks. And I think it’s a pretty rational fear.