Magazine article Risk Management

Beneath the Surface

Magazine article Risk Management

Beneath the Surface

Article excerpt

The day I arrived in San Diego to attend RIMS 2008, a swimmer was killed by a great white shark just off one of the local beaches. The incident made national news, as does every shark attack in this country. But the incident got especially intense coverage in San Diego, where the mayor wanted to assure people that the beaches were still worth visiting. Really? Had he not seen Jaws?

To be fair, even though that movie is one of my favorites, I never saw it until I was in high school. When I was a kid, my family spent a week out of every summer on the Jersey shore, and my parents were convinced that if I saw that film, I would never go into the surf again. So to preserve future vacations, Jaws went on the family no-watch list.

By the time I finally did see the movie, I scoffed at the notion that it could have scared me out of the water. After all, swimming is in my blood. I have always been a strong swimmer, having been my local league's backstroke champion for a few years and earning my Mile Swim badge from the Boy Scouts when I was 12. I spent many a summer swimming in the ocean, often in deep water and far from shore, and I was always more concerned about rip currents than hungry sharks. So what was the big deal?

It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned great whites didn't just live along the shores of Australia, Africa and Amity Island, like I had thought. They're pretty much everywhere. That includes off the coast of Cape Cod, where my wife worked a summer or two as a videographer on a local whale-watching boat, and where my family currently vacations. When my wife first told me about the time she caught a 20-foot great white on tape cruising by the boat, I thought she was joking. Nope, not at all. And the thing was, she said, even though the tourists on the boat went bananas at seeing the shark, the truth was, it was hardly the first time one had been sighted out there. They prey on the local seal population--the same seals you can often see swimming alongside bathers just a few feet from shore.

Suddenly, I recalled how I lived in the surf as a kid. All those times I swam out past the distant sandbars, where the water got really dark and cold. How many times had something predatory cruised by me and figured I wasn't worth the effort? It had to have happened at least once, but there is no way of knowing. …

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