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Sound Bites
by Tom Neale

Some very reliable friends told us of once watching a hammerhead climb up a beach after a dead pig. This, again, was in the Bahamas. The pig had somehow died and ended up in the sea. It had floated up on a beach at high tide, decaying. The shark detected that it was there during low tide, and wriggled up the beach, grabbed the pig, and wriggled back down into the water, pulling it with him. It was a large pig and a large shark. According to these friends, the shark had no trouble with the maneuver.

You will often see barracuda swimming and just hanging about. Conventional wisdom is that "Oh, they won't bother you." Usually they won't. But they are incredibly fast. If something attracts them, you hardly know they're coming. We've seen flashy jewelry, bright colors, and, of course, blood and agitation attract them. We've also seen them attracted by the splash of people jumping from a dinghy into the water. When we see them hanging out in the open and changing colors we're even more concerned. Some blending with nearby rocks may be normal, but I'm not talking about that. We've known people to suffer very serious bites from barracuda.

We've observed that people are more likely to have contact with sharks and barrie in the early morning and late afternoon. I won't conjecture why. We've also observed the likelihood to increase in surf where there's a lot of sand stirred up, assumedly obscuring vision of creatures who are just hanging out looking for food.

We've been amazed over the years to see that some cruisers, boaters and other people seem to think nothing of cleaning their fish from their boats in anchorages where people are swimming, or of cleaning them on nearby beaches. If you see this going on, stay out of the water. And you might drop a diplomatic hint about better places to clean fish.

A shark or barracuda bite is a very "dirty" bite, not just as to the cut itself but also as to the bacteria that's left inside the wound. If you should get bit by any sea creature, get it treated by a doctor quickly. This is simple while cruising in the states, but not so simple in the islands. Get a plane if necessary to get the wound properly treated. Don't underestimate the bite.

Does any of this mean that we should be afraid when we're on or in the water? No. It means that we should be in tune with what's going on and always respectful. There's a great campaign these days to promote awareness of environmental concerns and protection of all aspects of the environment-including the ones that can be dangerous. This is very good and very important. But in the Mad Avenue melee to promote things in a user friendly manner that's appealing to the masses, wild creatures are often humanized and personalized. It's the vogue today to swim with sharks, to produce TV programs portraying the theme that they're misunderstood and wonderful creatures, and to talk about how few shark attacks there are compared with automobile accidents etc. This, so far as it goes, is true and good to know. But sometimes it's easy to loose sight of the fact that some creatures which need to be protected are still creatures-not humans. And part of their function is to bite.

For the first half of these tips, go to Tom's cruising section on

Copyright 2004
Tom Neale


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