Threat of sharks no laughing matter

Sometimes, kids know best. Summertime at the beach brings thoughts of hot sun, sand sculptures and cool ocean waves, but it can also raise anxiety about what lurks below the surface.

New Hampshire resident Walter Szulc Jr. originally laughed off his teenage daughter’s advice to watch out for sharks as he set out in a kayak last weekend during a family trip to Nauset Beach on Cape Cod.

As she alerted him, he mocked the possibility of seeing a shark with a reference to the great white shark in the movie “Jaws,” the 1975 thriller based on the
best-selling novel by Peter Benchley.

Szulc soon realized the seriousness of the danger when he was about 50 yards from shore. A nearby man on a paddleboard pointed his paddle at him, and Szulc turned to see the fin of a shark just behind him.

The Manchester resident looked down and saw that part of the shark was beneath his kayak. On the beach, a witness took a picture of the encounter, and the photo has been rapidly traveling around the Internet.

Luckily, Szulc was able to quickly paddle to shore and no one was injured.

According to the Florida Program for Shark Research, there are an average of 50 to 70 shark attacks each year worldwide. As the human population increases, and the use of the oceans for recreation rises, the number of attacks increases.

The area where Szulc encountered the shark has a history of shark reports, but they were typically seen farther out – about 100 yards from shore, according to Lee Miller, the Orleans beach director.

During the past few years, there have been more and more shark sightings reported on the East Coast. The reports are mostly of the great white shark, one of the few known to attack unprovoked.

But before we start pulling those “Jaws” movie images back to mind, we need to remember there hasn’t been a fatal attack in New England in more than 75 years. Fatal shark attacks are very rare, with only five annually worldwide.

Compare that to the average 54 deaths due to lightning each year in the United States, and maybe we should also be paying attention to those kids justifiably scared of thunderstorms.