The likelihood of any Eckerd student being attacked or killed by a shark is lower than them being crushed by a vending machine. But it is our responsibility to prevent any such incident from occurring by being respectful of our role in the ecosystem just beyond Eckerd’s seawall.
The pier, as a communal resource, should be shared by the community. There are certain conditions where it is safer to swim, particularly on clear days while the sun is out. When this is not the case with overcast, rainy days or after dark, the conditions become more ideal for fishing-- including shark fishing, because they are nocturnal.
Chumming, a form of fishing that involves throwing bait into the water for the purpose of attracting large marine animals, like sharks, is not considerate to swimmers that frequent the area because the bait is spread out, and meant to attract sharks and other large fish.
Benjamin Chemel, visiting assistant professor of biology and an avid fisherman, took note of the problem with this shared space.
“I’ve witnessed conflict between people who want to swim at that pier and people that want to fish at that pier. The two appear to be mutually exclusive. Sorting that out is a challenge. Who has a better claim to that pier?” Chemel said.
Since the pier is property for all Eckerd students, people are often forced to obey a first-come, first-served system. Junior Saunders Selvig is happy to capitalize on this dynamic.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m shark fishing, I’m gonna put some jackheads in the water,’ and then they leave and you have it all to yourself,” Selvig said.
According to Selvig, he isn’t concerned about attracting larger marine life while swimmers are present, or the possibility of sharks and other large sea life becoming conditioned to expect food off the pier during the evenings.
“I really am not too concerned about [shark bites], because most of the time when you’re shark fishing it’s at night when there’s no people swimming, and if you’re swimming at night you’re an idiot,” Selvig said.
The hazard of chumming for swimmers mainly stems from what continued chumming signals to larger members of the aquatic food chain. Junior William Hawthorne, a spearfisher with a general interest in biology, is aware of the threats this conditioning could present.
“I have mixed opinions about people chumming at the docks at Eckerd College. Chumming
around piers has been linked to an increase in shark attacks, which is why you should never swim around a fishing pier,” Hawthorne said.
At Eckerd, it is common for a Saturday night to involve a splash off the college’s popular pier. But if you’re jumping off after dark, you have a higher chance of jumping into fish guts, and potentially with underwater predators, too.
Hawthorne recognises that disposing of fish guts into the ecosystem serves as a dinner bell for large animals like sharks, which would otherwise not associate this location with food.
Swimming during daylight ensures that there is less of a chance for a case of mistaken identity to occur between a swimmer and a shark.
Avoid swimming when the sun isn’t out (including rainy conditions, which can confuse predators) and when fishing is happening off the pier. When water clarity is poor, it becomes an ideal time to chum in order to attract large fish. By taking more care with the time you swim or chum off of the pier way we can all safely share our shoreside resource.