For now at least, galeophobia not an irrational fear

Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then … ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’.”

— Quint, from the 1975 movie classic, “Jaws”

Those of us old enough to remember the 1975 movie “Jaws” probably recall the irrational fear it provoked of wading into the ocean in general, and specifically of sharks, particularly the great white one. More than a few folks spent that summer vacation on the firm sand of the beach, dipping no more than their toes into the ocean.

Tragically, after the last few weeks, galeophobia — the fear of sharks — no longer seems irrational; in fact, a cogent argument can be made that wading into the ocean is irrational.

On Saturday, a Camp Lejeune Marine was attacked by a shark while wading in the surf at the beach at Surf City. The Marine, who suffered relatively minor cuts to his right hand and forearm, became the eighth person attacked by a shark off North Carolina beaches in the last three weeks. Half that many attacks have been reported at South Carolina beaches in the last couple of months.

There have been no fatalities, but some of the injuries have been catastrophic. Two teenagers each lost an arm, and at least one other person almost died before he reached a hospital.

Experts in such matters suggest the guilty sharks are likely bulls, tigers or hammerheads, but no one can say with certainty. During that time there have been countless videos on social media, primarily Facebook, showing large sharks in the surf at various Carolina beaches, some nearly beaching themselves as they chase bait fish for dinner.

It has all been a horrifying reminder that the ocean is the home of sharks, which are indiscriminate meat-eaters.

Since records of such things have been kept, there has never been this many shark attacks in such a short time off our state’s coast — and the summer is barely halfway over. You have probably been reminded that deer and cows kill more people every year in this country, and it’s not even close. But that isn’t because deer and cows blindside and then devour their victim, but because those animals have strayed into the path of a motor vehicle.

People aren’t going to stop driving because they worry about striking a deer or cow; people will, however, prefer dry land if they believe they might become a shark’s meal.

That is a very real threat to the economies of our coastal economies — and even, but extension, to those of communities that are a gateway to the coast, such as Robeson County. The math can be done later, but don’t be surprised if there is a negative effect on tourism throughout Southeastern North Carolina as vacationers head elsewhere.

None of the experts has explained why sharks are attacking people with a regularity never seen before, but we can tell you this: The sharks are in the surf because that is where the bait fish are. What is pushing those smaller fish into such shallow water is a fair debate — and their presence can be detected easily enough by watching for birds diving into the water in search of fish for lunch.

We hope this is a short-lived aberration, and that soon enough sharks will head out to the deeper waters, and away from those of us who enjoy a dip into the ocean.

We wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that people stay out of the ocean, but we also wouldn’t recommend it. For now at least, it’s enter at a greater risk than we have ever seen before.