the problem with sharks
I was saddened by the report that Jordan Lindsey, age 21, has died as a result of a shark attack in the waters off Rose Island, New Providence, in the Bahamas. And not just a shark: 3 of them! My heartfelt sympathies go out to Jordan’s family who I know will be devastated with this loss. And while I understand the fact that a group of sharks hunting together is as rare as a black pearl, and this will bring little comfort to the Jordans, at least they can be reassured Lindsey was doing nothing wrong as she snorkeled in the placid waters off Nassau.
I have learned almost too much about sharks from talking with three of the world’s foremost shark experts while researching my book “Shark Assault: An Amazing Story of Survival”. Dr. Gregory Skomal (head of the Massachusetts Shark Research Program), the late Dr. Eugenie Clark (known as “the shark lady”, who, when I interviewed her, had just come in from scuba diving in a research session at age 92!) and George Burgess of the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File (in which he and his cohorts investigate every known shark attack incident from around the globe). A theory each of them advanced to me is that sharks do not hunt in packs. They explained that these are lone stalkers and do not need assistance in carrying out their brutal work. And yet, unless preliminary reports are in error, young’s Lindsey was set upon by a band of three sharks! How can this be?
“You are more likely to be struck by a bolt of lightning than experience a shark attack” I was told by the experts as they emphasized the rarity of even confronting a shark while swimming in the ocean. How is it, then, that all the rules of logic have been thrown away as the world confronts the fact of Lindsey Jordan’s tragic death?
Let me try to add some background here that will not answer the big question but can perhaps apply some perspective.
Nicole Moore was wading peacefully, waist deep, in the shallow ocean at a resort beach in Cancun, Mexico, when she was suddenly, without warning, brutally attacked by a bull shark, the meanest of the more than 450 species. The beast lunged at her left thigh, ripping off more than a 15” section of her skin and penetrating right down to the femur, the strongest bone of the human skeleton. (She would later learn that the shark tore away two quadriceps and two hamstrings in less time than it takes to state that fact.) It was as barbarous an attack as you can imagine. But incredibly, this monster was not done with her. Dissatisfied with having destroyed her leg, the shark now shook loose, darted behind her and reappeared to devour her left arm in its ravenous mouth. Nicole came extremely close to dying as a result of these strikes (she lost 60% of her blood, a condition we as humans are not meant to survive, and her arm would eventually be amputated as a result.)
But here’s the thing: when I conducted my first interview of many with Nicole while researching the book, she wondered aloud if there may have been two sharks at work here, one devouring her leg, a second, subsequently, going after her arm. My team of experts were unified in their response: “No, this was definitely the work of a single bull shark.” How could they be so certain, I wanted to know?
“Peter, sharks do not hunt in packs, let alone attack in unison. They are solitary hunters. Of this the scientific community is certain.”
Now, not that a simple soul like me is about to doubt their collective judgment, but I must enquire: why does their highly expert research theory appear to be thrown on the rocks in the case of the sad death of Lindsey Jordan, succumbing to the cruelty of three sharks attacking her arms, legs and buttocks? How is it that their other aligned opinion – “Sharks do not like eating people; their chosen menu is fish, seabirds, turtles, seals, etc.” – also appears to no longer hold water?
Well, if there is one certitude emerging from the sorrowful story of Lindsey's death, it is that the mystery of the ocean remains just that: an enigma. Deep, penetrating, vast and abstruse. And just when we mortal humans deduce we’ve got it all figured out, Mother Nature throws a herring our way, as if to say, “Forget it pal, you’ll never understand!”
BTW, for those of you who have not had the chance to read “Shark Assault” (sharkassault.com), I should report that not only did Nicole Moore survive the two ferocious attacks on her leg and arm, she is thriving today as a positive, fulfilled and inspirational healthcare worker who continues to blow away audiences with her speeches about surviving the terrifying occurrence with the bull shark that nearly ended her existence.
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