'20/20' Takes on Summertime Myths

The rituals of summer are in full swing. Bodies are tanner, blonds are suspiciously blonder, and the smell of barbecue is in the air. As you head out to the beach, are you worried more about sharks than sunburn? Do you wait half an hour after eating before you hit the water? You may want to rethink some of your summertime.

Here are a few of the summertime myths "20/20" puts to rest in "Summertime: Myths, Lies and Straight Talk."

Swimming with the Sharks

In the past month, a 14-year-old girl was killed by a shark off the coast of Florida and a 16-year-old boy lost a leg in a shark attack near the same stretch of beach. Every summer, scary reports of shark attacks or shark-infested waters grab our attention.

These incidents get so much news coverage you'd think there were great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks lurking near every beach, just waiting out here to grab unsuspecting surfers and swimmers. But just how dangerous are sharks, and how likely are we to be attacked at the beach?

"Your odds of being attacked are infinitesimally small. You have a better chance of going and buying a lottery ticket and winning than you do of encountering a shark -- far less dying," said George Burgess, a marine biologist and the director of the Florida program for shark research at the University of Florida. Burgess, who has more than 4,000 files on suspected and confirmed shark attacks dating back to the 16th century, added, "Put it in perspective. Worldwide, we have on average, about 75 attacks a year, resulting in less than 10 fatalities."

In fact, dogs kill twice as many people each year in the United States.

Our national obsession with sharks began 30 years ago, when the movie "Jaws" scared us to death. Burgess says we've had an irrational fear of the toothy sea predators ever since.

But experts say most so-called shark attacks are a case of mistaken identity. Most of the time, when a shark realizes the human isn't a fish it lets go.

"The average person going to the beach in Florida or in New Jersey, they don't need to be worried about shark attack. They just need to understand that it's a potential risk along with many other things," Burgess said.

So the risk for is minimal, but to make it even less likely that you'll have a "Jaws"-like experience, experts have a few suggestions:

Don't swim after dusk or before dawn.

Don't wear shiny jewelry that can be mistaken by sharks for fish scales.

Don't swim alone.

If you do happen to meet up with your worst nightmare, Burgess says you should fight back. "Be as strong as you possibly can. They respect power. They're a predator," he said.

"Hit him on the nose, but be accurate, because just south of the nose is the mouth," Burgess cautioned.

So is it a fact or a myth then that sharks are public enemy No. 1 at the beach?

Burgess says no. "I would say sunburn is probably public enemy No. 1," he said.

Lightning -- A Bigger Threat Than Shark Attacks

Where lightning is concerned, there is an entire catalog of myths. Here are just a few: Myth: Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.

Fact: It does, especially if it's a tall, isolated object such as the Empire State building, which is struck an estimated 25 times a year.

Myth: If it's not raining, you're safe from lightning.

Fact: Lightning can strike more than three miles from a thunderstorm.

Page
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...