During a recent tuna fishing trip out of Ilwaco, aboard the charter boat Katie Marie, we were fortunate enough to experience many wondrous phases of ocean life.
Leaving the port at 3 a.m., the night was pitch black and the river, Columbia Bar and the ocean were at an eerie stillness. The ocean was dead calm with not a breath of wind to ruffle the surface. At about 20 miles offshore, the night was suddenly alive with thousands of sardines thrashing the surface for as far as the eye could see with the vessel's night-lights. This glistening sight continued for about 15 minutes as the Katie Marie moved towards our waypoint at 14 knots.
As daylight peeked over the horizon the sea remained glassy and the clarity of the "blue water" was phenomenal. As we trolled along at 9 knots, an occasional albatross would wing its way over our lures and swoop down for a closer inspection. Sports Afield last month published an article saying that albatross can stay in the air for up to a year without landing and are also capable of napping while gliding. These majestic birds are a pleasure to watch as they soar seemingly without effort. There are many varieties of albatross, and generally their length is about 28 inches with a wingspan of up to 80 inches.
As we cruised along on this pristine ocean we began to see dorsal and tail fins cutting the surface. We trolled for miles and almost everywhere there were sharks. It was like a shark convention was taking place all around us. Most were identified as blue shark, which are very slender and grow to a length of about 13 feet and around 400 pounds. Some were small, some not so small. Their dorsal fin is relatively small and their pectoral fins very long - built for speed. Some sharks were unidentifiable and I am sure there were several species.
The following day, with my curiosity aroused, I pulled up the international shark attack file under ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and found some interesting statistics and derived some speculative conclusions.
Most attacks took place at depths of 11 to 20 feet with a water temperature of 74 degrees F. and the greatest frequency occurred between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Also, 50 percent of the attacks were by sharks between 10 to 14 feet, 23 percent were 9 foot long and sharks 15 to 19 feet in length generated 21 percent of the attacks.
In this particular study 93 victims were male, five female and two unknown.
The leading countries for shark attacks were the U.S. at 109 (98 West Coast, seven East Coast), South Africa at 60, Australia at 46, the Mediterranean at 22, New Zealand at 13, Japan with seven and South America at six. The best way to get an overall picture is to study the stats over a long period of time.
Worldwide, although shark populations have decreased, the population of the world has increased and the number of people participating in aquatic sports has grown accordingly.
1960s: 317 attacks
1970s: 161 attacks (insufficient reporting by ISAF)
1980s: 230 attacks
1990s: 536 attacks
The fatality rate in the 90s was 12.7 percent. From 1916 to 2001 California has led the U.S. in unprovoked attacks by great white sharks with 78 incidents and eight fatalities, Oregon is second with 14 attacks but no fatalities. According to this report Washington has had only one reported shark attack and that did not end in a fatality.
Seventy-five percent of all worldwide attacks are attributed to great whites, 18 percent unknown, 3 percent blues, 2 percent hammer heads and 1 percent mako.
The international shark attack file (ISAF) confirmed 76 unprovoked cases worldwide in 2001. Also reported in 2001 were four provoked attacks, two scavenge events and two cases of sharks biting marine vessels. As in recent years 82 percent of shark encounters occurred in North American waters. Following recent trends, Florida (37) had the most attacks in the U.S.
The ISAF efficiency in discovering and investigating attacks has increased greatly over the past decade due to advanced computer technology and the transfer of ISAF to the Florida Museum of Natural History in 1988. Many of the attacks would be missed because they occurred in communication-poor locales or areas lacking an ISAF representative.
Surfers proved to be good lures representing 49 percent of the attacks, swimmers/waders 29 percent, divers/snorkelers 15 percent and kayakers 6 percent.
The ISAF, internationally recognized as the definitive source of scientifically accurate information on shark attack, is a compilation of all known shark attacks.
As mentioned earlier, surfers present themselves as a very attractive meal to sharks. Wrapping themselves in black neoprene suits and splashing out to ride the "big one" while presenting the appearance of a seal they place themselves at the top of the predator menu. As with most of us, at a younger age, we thought of ourselves to be bulletproof; and for that reason surfers are not likely to change their habits, the danger being part of the lure of the sea.
For me, I live in the state of Washington with the "over 50" crowd (none of whom are surfers), fish and bird hunt for a hobby, do not take Florida or California vacations - and that's all right with me.