What I learned from Shark Week

I grew up in Northern California near the ocean and spent many summer days swimming at our local beach.

One summer when I was 9 years old, I was swimming not too far from the beach when I glanced over my shoulder and saw a fin right behind me. In panic mode, I started swimming for the shore. I’m a fair swimmer, but I think that afternoon I reached Olympic medal speed as I raced for the beach. As I dragged myself up onto the beach, I looked back and saw the “fin” — a cardboard box that had been caught in my wake — wash up on shore. I laughed sheepishly, but that afternoon was the beginning of a lifelong fin phobia.

So every year when Shark Week rolls around on the Discovery Channel, I look forward to finding out more about sharks. Here is what I learned this year:

1) If you have been swimming at any beach anywhere in the world, you have been within 10 feet of a shark. To prove this theory, next time you are at the beach, put your head in the water and look around. The theme from “Jaws” will start to play in your head.

2) Humans are not a shark’s favorite food. We are too bony and scrawny. Sharks prefer big, fat, blubbery seals. However, if you’ve been to a beach lately, you will notice that many of us are starting to look like a shark’s favorite meal.

3) Surfers are a big favorite of sharks. From below, a surfer on a board with arms and legs dangling looks like a shark’s second favorite food, a sea turtle. To a shark, a surfer is basically steak tartare on a big platter.

4) Shark researchers are certifiably crazy. First off, they go looking for sharks usually in a very small boat. Then they attach a birdcage to the side of the boat and get into it and watch while a great white shark the size of a school bus swims by.

5) Australians are also residents of Crazy Town. Their beaches are teeming with great white sharks, but every year they swarm to the beaches. They put up some badminton nets on the perimeter of the beaches and hire a shark lookout to stand in a tower and sound an alarm when they see a shark coming close to a swimmer. I don’t know if sharks can hear, but if they do, the alarm probably sounds a lot like a dinner bell.

Many years ago, when “Jaws” came out, a friend said to me, “I don’t see what’s so scary about sharks. Just stay out of the water!” Luxury hotels have followed up on this advice. They build gorgeous swimming pools right next to the beach — beautiful ocean views with no sharks and a swim-up bar — a win-win situation.

Shark Week is over for this year. But I’ll be back next year eager to find out more about sharks from the relative safety of my living-room couch.

Cheryl Pearson lives in Central Point.

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