WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC -- Sunday the surf was firing on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, and I joined hundreds of other surfers out in the break off Wrightsville Beach, forgetting about the recent shark attacks for those sweet hours.
I’ve always been a water person, even though I’m the world’s worst surfer.
For the past two years, I’ve spent virtually every weekend walking, biking, swimming, fishing and surfing on North Carolina’s many islands and capes, fully exploring them again and again.
It is an amazing series of fragile spots, from the Outer Banks to Ocean Isle, each different and changing with the seasons. But mostly I’ve been on Topsail and Wrightsville islands and am getting to know them a like a local. (it’s just a 4-hour drive from Richmond.)
I can tell you this... something is very different this spring and early summer.
I and other walkers have seen far less shells and fewer varieties. The water tastes and feels saltier.
You don’t see the tiny bait fish jumping and schooling like mad. Pelicans and other fisherbirds seem fewer and nowhere near as busy.
Apart from a speckled trout and some bluefish, all I’ve caught is small sharks and lizard fish – stuff you don’t want on your hook.
To me, the water just doesn’t seem to be as alive.
Except for the sharks. This run of seven attacks is just plain wild.
Experts are saying warmer temperatures and a drier weather has increased salinity, which sharks prefer.
There are those who blame man-made climate change. While others believe success protecting the hatching of sea turtles has filled the surf with these crunchy tortoise M&Ms that sharks apparently enjoy.
I’m not buying that.
I look to the Native Americans of long ago, who described big surges and die-offs in different animal populations every decade or so. Seven years of plentiful deer, a surge, then a die-off, for example.
Could this just be the year of the shark?
We’re told to be careful and aware when we’re in the water. But how do you do that?
These attacks happen so quickly, and most of them occur inside the sand bars were there’s lots of foam and sandy water, making it hard to see until it’s on you.
Still, let’s compare the danger.
Terrible maimings, yes, but no deaths by shark so far in 2015 in the U.S. But about 32,000 people will die in motor vehicle crashes this year, and another 2 million will be injured, many of them horribly.
Roughly 50 will die from bee stings and another 25 from lightning strikes.
In a typical year, toilet incidents injure some 30,000 Americans, according to National Geographic, and sharks injure 13 or so and kill one every year or two in the U.S.
But, of course, this is not a typical year.
So, weigh the odds.
Me, I’ll continue to be in the surf with the fishes, where I can feel the magic of the ocean and all that lives there. Life’s too short not to swim.
That’s my take. Share yours in the comments section below.