When is it safe to stay in the water?
The other day I pulled off a wave close to shore and a beach-walker began frantically waving at me to come in. It was early in the morning and I’d only had a couple of waves so I was reluctant to respond to the beckoning stranger, but eventually I submitted and walked shivering up the sand to see what the fuss was about.
“They’ve seen a shark at the other end of the beach,” he exclaimed. “Everyone down there has gotten out.”
I glanced down the beach where swimmers usually wade before work and sure enough it was empty. The regular lifeguards were not yet on duty and so no alarm had been sounded. The beach in question is a about a km long. Ok, I’ll confess, it was Bondi.
Based on my desire for more waves and an intuitive notion that the sighted shark was either a long way away or posed no major threat, I returned to the water. Unlike the WSL surfers at J-Bay, the early crew at Bondi didn’t have the benefit of a drone that tracked the predator’s every movement. In such situations you really only have your gut instinct to go on.
Perhaps the urban surrounds created a false sense of security – there were people on the beach, cars whizzing past on the coastal thoroughfare and you could almost see into the bedrooms of the beachside units. Still, a friend had lost his arm to a shark at the same beach only a few years ago. Paying over price for real estate obviously didn’t make you shark proof.
Once back in the water, I realised that a friend was sitting alone on an outside bank. In the immediate wake of the beach-walker’s revelation I felt obligated to at least let him know what had transpired. As I might have expected when I told him what had happened he shrugged it off and we shared a few more waves together.
Twenty minutes later I found myself on a another bank alongside a girl
who wore the kind of contented smile, which suggested she was immensely enjoying her morning surf. There were one or two other surfers on the bank, but they were spread out across the shifting peak. Part of me felt like I had a duty to inform her that some random guy on the beach reckoned there had been a shark spotted, but a stronger instinct compelled me to say nothing, lest I destroy the serenity she was obviously enjoying. By this time the lifeguards were setting up, and the supposed shark seemed like a distant threat. I sensed that the suggestion a marine predator was lurking would burden the young girl with an irrational fear. Maybe this was irresponsible on my part, but as it happened we all rode a few more fun waves on a crisp winter’s morning.
The above scenario does however pose a few moral quandaries. What is the correct protocol when a shark is sighted? Who do you tell? And when does it cease to be considered a threat if we don’t have commissioner KP and the drone to give us the thumbs up to get back out there?