With dive season in full, summertime mode, I stopped in at my local dive center to pick up a few items for my next dive. Spring was hard on my equipment. After 20 dives in the Caribbean and another 20 at home, I had managed to lose a dive reel, break a fin strap, and crack the frame of my favorite mask.
As I talked to the sales person about getting a new mask, another man and his son were talking to the store manager about taking their beginning scuba class. I am always excited to see new people taking up my favorite pastime, so I could not help listening in to the conversation. Clearly the new divers had been to the store before, as the manager greeted them by name and welcomed them back.
“So, where’s your daughter?” I heard the manager ask.
The man looked down sheepishly, then said, “Well, she has decided not to do the class.”
“Oh, no!” the manager replied. “Why is that? She seemed so excited about trying scuba.”
Again, the man looked down.
“She’s afraid,” his son interjected.
The manager laughed. “She didn’t seem scared the last time she was in!”
“She’s afraid of sharks,” the boy replied.
“Really?” the manager replied. “We don’t have too many of those around here.”
“I know,” the man returned. “We made the mistake of letting her watch ‘Shark Week’. Next thing I know she is terrified to go into the water because she thinks a shark will get her.”
I felt my heart drop when I heard the man say this. I have traveled the world to see sharks. I have spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets and boat rides. I have logged hundreds of hours above and below water looking for them and studying them. I have been on shark dives where I was guaranteed to see them and I have stumbled upon sharks accidently in places I would not have expected to see them. I have always respected them, always been in awe of them. But I have never been afraid of the “big bad shark.”
For those of us who grew up in the ocean, we know that it is a rare privilege to see a shark on a dive. Much like a hiker in Yellowstone who sees a bear, we get excited and can’t help telling the story for weeks afterward. Yet, for those who are new to the ocean, the image of sharks portrayed by Hollywood is far more real than any story a seasoned diver might tell. Sadly, this means that many potential divers, like this young girl, will never venture underwater after Shark Week.
So here’s my advice during Shark Week. Turn off the television. Open a book or read an article online about the ocean and this fascinating creature.
Here are some great places to start. Feel free to add to my list!
- The Silent World, Jacques Cousteau
- The World is Blue, Sylvia Earle
- The Ocean of Life, Callum Roberts
- The Reef, Iain McCalman
- Sharks: The Animal Answers Guide, Gene Helfman and George H Burgess
- The Extreme Life of the Sea, Stephen Palumbi and Anthony Palumbi