It was one of the first times I had wandered out past my waist, the non-swimmer that I am, and into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Jacksonville Beach. My entire family was on the shore and plenty of others, all perfect strangers, were in the water with me, or so I thought. I suddenly noticed people heading back to shore and the people who were already on shore were pointing at the water, where I was still standing in water higher than my waist.
Then it hit me: I wasn’t alone out there. While nobody was pointing at me or in my general direction, it hit me. No, this time it really hit me, whatever it was. I got bumped, smacked, clubbed from behind, whatever you want to call it, by some ocean animal large enough to knock me off balance. Naturally, I panicked and hauled ass back to land.
After I slogged my way through the water with the help of the surf and made it back to shore, which can be achieved rather quickly when a girl believes a shark has tripped her up 30 yards out, I stood next to my mother who had no idea what was happening. My father was no help, either. Finally, I looked out and saw dolphins swimming in a circle, discernible only by their fins. I have heard stories of dolphins protecting potential prey and preventing them from becoming shark victims. So, was it a shark or dolphin that made contact with my legs? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but wouldn’t this story be ridiculously awesome if I actually knew it was a shark?
You’d better believe I’d be telling everyone I knew that I survived a shark attack! Instead, I’m relegated to repeating I got bumped by something in the ocean, possibly a tarpon.
See? There’s no oomph to that.
Anyway, over the next few years, I always paid attention to reports of shark attacks around Jacksonville’s beaches. Usually a lemon shark or a bull shark was to blame for nipping at some poor surfer’s calf or, in one instance, taking off an unsuspecting beachgoer’s foot while he stood in only three feet of water. True story, I swear. The victim was an active-duty Navy guy just out for a stroll at the beach. The absurdity of it is why I remember it so well. Three feet of water, people!
What all this rambling really leads up to is this: Ocearch!
Imagine my surprise when I learned that great white sharks actually frequent the shoreline near Jacksonville! I think this is the most exciting project happening today – unprecedented shark research, tagging, tracking. We will learn so much! Sharks are some of the most misunderstood and reviled creatures on the planet, and I cannot understand why. As it happens, I have a greater chance of being killed in a tornado this spring here in Oklahoma than by a shark when I head back home to my Florida waters this summer. Also, back in 1987 there were more people attacked by squirrels and wild rats in New York City than were attacked by sharks in the entire world.
I’m so proud that Jacksonville is the beginning site and home base of the first-ever great white shark expedition in Florida. As I write this, Lydia, who happens to be a fourteen-foot long great white tagged only two days ago off the North Florida coast, is hanging out a few hundreds yards off of Mayport, just south of the jetties where that Navy guy lost his foot a few years ago.
This is news you can use, people.