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My View: Western New Yorkers cherish our shark-free waters

By Paul Chimera

With the summer swimming season nearly here, one of the things I’m grateful for about the rich abundance of lakes and rivers – and a rather big waterfall in the Western New York area – is the scarcity of sharks. They can mean trouble.

Can you imagine taking a leisurely swim at, say, Angola on the Beach and suddenly encountering a Great White – or even just a smaller version of the most feared denizen of the sea? Fortunately, a mainstay of magazine journalism, Reader’s Digest, has come to the rescue.

It recently published a guide that explains what to do if you were ever that one in 11.5 million (those are reportedly the odds of being attacked by a shark) who comes face to face with a hungry shark sizing us up for its next tasty breakfast, lunch, dinner or late-night snack.

Now, mind you, this advice is moot if you’re diving into Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, or the Buffalo or Niagara rivers. But it may also help us appreciate the relative safety of our water-rich region. And it will come in handy if your summer vacation involves less-friendly waters.

Maintain eye contact, Reader’s Digest says, and “try not to let the shark get behind you.” Listen, fellow Buffalonians – if you know how to ensure that a shark puts aside its aggressive instincts and compliantly refrains from getting behind you, please give us a clue how it’s done.

Reader’s Digest also recommends that “if the shark looks aggressive, try to maintain a strong presence. But if it appears to be just swimming by, curling up and not causing a scene could encourage the shark to continue on its merry way.”

Well that sounds easy enough. Should an “aggressive-looking” shark (as opposed to a cuddly one) happen to be swimming near you, simply maintain a strong presence. How you do that is the $64,000 question, of course.

The magazine also advises, with seeming contradiction, that you create a commotion. “Distancing yourself by swimming backward slowly,” the publication adds, “is a safer bet.”

Hmmm. Let’s flip a coin here. Do we create a commotion, presumably by thrashing and splashing? Or do we slowly swim backwards, perhaps repeating, “Good boy, nice shark, good boy, nice ... ”

Paul Chimera

Finally the article says it may be time for aggression – on your part, not the shark’s. Writes the author, Jen McCaffery: “Aim for the gills or eyes. If a shark is attacking you, hitting these sensitive areas with anything you might have on you, such as a camera or a snorkel mask, could stun the shark temporarily and buy you some time.”

I don’t know too many folks who carry their camera (most probably a smartphone these days) with them while going for an ocean swim. And I just bet that drug store snorkel mask will have a devastating impact when you bop the shark a good one with it.

Now, of course, you’ve bought yourself some precious time. Quick! Channel Michael Phelps, or maybe Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame – and swim like your life depends on it.

It all sounds like an excellent reason to do your summer swimming right here in beautiful, shark-free Western New York. Fair warning, though: here in the Buffalo area, you might encounter a zebra mussel or two. No worries. Just be sure to maintain eye contact.

Paul Chimera is a Kenmore-based writer and avid swimmer – sometimes.

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