Written by Mike Durkin, OceanCity.com
Everyone loves a relaxing dip in the ocean on a hot summer day, with the Ocean City Beach being the perfect location. However, as recent tragic news from North Carolina has made clear1, it is important to know how to relax safely in the ocean, particularly when dealing with oceanic predators like sharks. It is important to remember that, despite the widespread news coverage of recent incidents, shark attacks are very uncommon and your chances of even encountering a shark, let alone being attacked by one, are very slim. In fact, according to National Geographic, your likelihood of a fatal run-in with a shark is 1 in 4 million!2 In fact, sharks should actually be afraid of humans. For every fatal shark attack, humans kill upwards of 2 million sharks!
Shark bites are rare events, especially in Maryland waters. There has never been a recorded shark attack on a human off the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland.
It is important to remember, however, that when swimming in the ocean, Coastal Bays, or even Chesapeake Bay, people should keep in mind that they are entering the habitat for sharks. Follow these tips from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources shark expert, Fisheries Biologist Angel Willey. They will help keep you safe and let you spend more time enjoying yourself on our beautiful beaches and allow you to play safely in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
- avoid swimming at dawn and dusk;
- avoid swimming in areas with drop offs (sometimes there are drop offs around sand bars);
- avoid swimming near people that are fishing (I’ve seen surfers and swimmers in the water next to folks that are shark fishing on Assateague);
- avoid wearing shiny things (jewelry, sequins, etc – some fish are lured in by that – think of some of the shiny lures you’ve seen in the store);
- don’t swim alone.
Some of our other sources suggest that if someone with you must swim alone while everyone else plays in the sand, designate a specific adult to keep an eye on them while they’re in the water. You should also introduce yourself and those with you to the lifeguard on duty when you arrive at the beach. This way if anything goes wrong, everyone knows who will be able to help and exactly where to find them.
It is just as important to know when to stay out of the water as it is to know how to swim safely. Never go in the ocean without a lifeguard on duty, no matter how confident a swimmer you are. This includes early morning and twilight hours, which can present increased dangers due to low light and a lack of visibility. Never swim at night. It is also important to keep out of the water if you are injured in any way that hinders your ability to swim on your own or if you have any open wounds. Sharks, being very acute hunters, can smell and trace blood back to its source.Fishermen present a lesser known, but equally dangerous threat. If you swim near them, not only do you run the risk of getting snagged by a hook, but if the fishermen are using any kind of live bait, there is a chance that they will be attracting larger fish and even shar
ks to that area. You should avoid swimming in non-recreational areas and you should never swim without supervision.
If you do run into a shark, which, it’s worth repeating, is very unlikely, do not confront them. Most sharks are just curious, and will not attack humans without being provoked. Your best course of action is to remove yourself from the water as calmly and efficiently as poss
ible and alert the lifeguard right away. If you are particularly unlucky, and you do find yourself face to face with an aggressive shark, the eyes and gills are the most sensitive area on the shark’s body. Once repelled, a shark will usually not return for a second attack, but you still should not waste any time getting out of the water and seeking medical attention.
Angel Willey from DNR added that fishermen and marinas can also help reduce the risk of shark bites in our waters by not dumping their fish carcasses in areas near where people swim or in the OC Inlet.
Beach safety is important. You can never be too careful and knowing how to avoid emergencies is just as important as how to handle emergencies in the off-hand chance that they will occur. Enjoy the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. Swim with friends and avoid fishermen. Ride the waves. We’ve been doing it for centuries without fear. It is important to remember that, not only are your odds of running into a shark are very slim, but that, by following these guidelines, you are now
prepared to enjoy a fun, relaxing, and safe day at the beach.