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Sharks In Perspective

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Sharks In Perspective: From Fear To Fascination

June 12-14, 2002
Tampa, Florida
Beach Safety
The obligations of lifeguards, regarding sharks, are dependent upon the geographic location, their organization, and individual situations
A lifeguard's main goal is the prevention of any injury to the beach-going public. The number one threat to the beach-going public is drowning.

In Florida (particularly in Volusia County), lifeguards have discrete protocols in place. Florida shark attack victims usually are able to reach shore by themselves since these incidents usually result in minor lacerations (and are more accurately referred to as shark bites). Lifeguards usually are responsible for providing first aid assistance on shore rather than at-sea rescue.

Some California agencies have "shark incident" (vs. "shark attack") reports. A shark incident report provides lifeguards with procedures and protocols to follow when a shark is encountered in the water. In Santa Cruz, California, a flowchart detailing responsibilities for lifeguards was developed. Shark attacks in California, where white sharks are the predominant species involved, are much different than Florida, which primarily involve other species. In white shark attacks, lifeguards may be involved in at-sea rescues.

In Hawaii, the tiger shark is the most dangerous species. Lifeguards requested training from the scientists to recognize shark behavior and shark species in order to determine degree of danger to the beach visitor. Difficulty in identifying species precluded development of species specific policies. Shark identification brochures are provided to junior lifeguards and interested public.

Education is the way to go
Beach safety agencies, like scientists involved in fishery management and conservation, need to deal with the "hype" surrounding shark attacks. The realities of shark encounters must be made known to the beach-going public and risk of shark bites compared to other beach dangers. Beach safety personnel will never be able to mandate what people do at the beach, but can provide them with the best information available to make their stay an enjoyable one.

There is a need to have various beach safety groups and outreach agencies join in forming a coordinated, central clearinghouse aimed at developing information and educational materials (brochures, signs, etc.) on general beach safety for beach users. The focus should be on education of our beach-going public to all the dangers and risks associated with going to the beach (sunburn, rip currents, animal bites/stings, cars on beach, etc.), not just shark attack. Partners are needed to develop these educational materials. For example, Sea Grant and USLA could cooperatively develop such materials.

Information must meet prevailing national/international standards. Presentations of these materials should be generic enough so that local agencies can insert local information into the template documents (PDFs easily modifiable). Lifeguard associations don't have funds to produce educational materials. Sources of funding must be identified to produce and distribute these materials (federal, state, local funding).

Panelists:
  • Chris Brewster, US Lifesaving Association, 3850 Sequoia Street, San Diego, CA [Moderator]
  • George Burgess, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
  • Alex Peabody, California State Parks, California State Parks, Santa Cruz, CA
  • Joe Wooden, Volusia County Beach Patrol, 440 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, FL