The sharks are among us

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

That is not just the catchphrase for a former fishy thriller meant to incite fear, but it is also on the minds of those along the coast. Whether it is from adverse weather such as tornadoes and waterspouts, hidden forces of nature such as riptides that can carry you to the west coast — of Europe, that is — or the creature that lurks beneath the surface in which the catchphrase was referring to, people have a lot to fear evidently.

A recent series of photos from the Outer Banks focused on the things that curl from the sky, with one showing a statue of a photographer with the Wright Brothers National Memorial in the background and a menacing darkened tornado just beyond. Surely that would not have been the winds the brothers were searching for, in order to prove man can fly. But this column is not about that.

Then, we had the sad news of a father who died along the waters of Fort Macon and his child who was barely rescued in time. The rip currents have been as abundant in the recent news stories as the actual phenomenon themselves, and that story was a prime example why. They can be hard to spot with the untrained eye, and even harder to swim against. However, the column is not about that either.

No, this column is about the creatures that swim below and instinctively make us make a deep heartbeat rhythmed ‘da-dum’ in our heads that increases in speed as the climactic end approaches.

Yes, we are talking about sharks along the coast once again. This is exactly what this column is about, other than the previous 200 or so words that were used as both filler and a preemptive crescendo to get to the point.

Much of the fear coming from sharks is whether they are actually around you. Then, when one is spotted — especially one spotted along the wave breaks near the shore — no one can believe that something so terrifying is that close. Sharks are supposed to be out in the deep blue sea.

Fortunately, the United States Coast Guard came up with a three-step test to determine if there are sharks nearby. Step one, dip your pointer and middle finger into the water. Step two, place the tips of those two fingers in your mouth. Step three, determine the taste. If they taste salty, there are sharks. Yes, it is very simple.

As for the veracity of whether the USCG actually put that test together, I’m not sure. But if they did, I would be willing to bet we spent way too much money in the analytics behind it.

There are also those that believe there is a reason the water is salty. The story goes that the reason the oceans and seas are salty is because they are filled with the tears of misunderstood sharks. Again, we may need to get Snopes.com to confirm or deny the possible truths behind this as well.

The fact is, sharks are misunderstood. And sharks are not misunderstood. Is this the Schrödinger’s Cat perplexity of the water world? No. They are misunderstood in the fact that they are actually anywhere and everywhere there is food. If baitfish are near shore, sharks will be too. Big ones included. And big ones eat bigger bait. Another recent photo showed the half body of a bottlenose dolphin reportedly found along our coast. Clean bite through a large mammal. It happens.

Sharks are not misunderstood in the fact that they will eat or bite anything. People included. Now they typically do not target humans, but a human on a surf board or boogie board can resemble a lot of different prey to a shark. As does a kayak. Or a body floating along the surface.

So, enjoy the beach, the surf and the water, but beware. If dangers don’t come from the skies or waters, they may come from beneath.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.