Sharks in the News

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It happens every summer. Bathers invade coastal waters, sharks attack bathers, and the rest of us are left to imagine the victim’s mind-numbing terror. Nearly a month to the day an Australian surfer was taken by a Great White shark described as being “as large as a car”. Another fatal attack occurred, this time in U. S. waters, when the remains of an abalone diver were found along the Mendocino Coast in California. Again the culprit was a Great White.

As if to remind us of the terror one faces when entering the ocean, Open Water debuts in theaters this weekend. Shot using actors exposed to real sharks, the story concerns a couple who surface from a dive, only to discover they’ve been left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters.

If that isn’t enough to get the blood curdling, there’s Meg; Primal Waters, a novel of deep terror, featuring a shark that makes the Great White look like a guppy. Seeking answers to why sharks frighten us so much, we caught up with best-selling author Steve Alten at a recent book-signing in Florida, one of the shark attack capitals of the world.

Interviewer: Experts assure us the chances of dying by a bee sting are far more likely than to be killed by a shark. Why is it that sharks frighten us so much?

Alten: Bees don’t eat their victims alive. When we enter the ocean, we’re entering a foreign environment where we become part of the food chain. Add to that our inability to see clearly and our sluggish movements, and we’re easily outmatched by a bigger, sleeker foe.

Interviewer: Which sharks should bathers fear?

Alten: All sharks should be respected, but there are three species most known to attack humans. Bull sharks are especially dangerous because they’re very aggressive animals that tend to come close to shore. Tiger sharks are another breed to be feared, larger, but just as fierce. Then there’s the Great White, which is associated with the two fatal attacks that occurred this season.

Interviewer: What about the sharks featured in your novels?

Alten: Carcharodon Megalodon, or MEG for short, was the nastiest predator of all time, a 70-foot, 70,000 pound version of the Great White. It’s teeth were 6-7 inches long, and it had a bite radius that could take down an elephant.

Interviewer: Are these monsters still around?

Alten: Technically, it’s possible. Megs only disappeared anywhere from 10,000 to 2 million years ago. Because the staple of the Megs’ diet (whales) are still around, some experts believe surviving members of the species may have gone deep, to avoid confrontations with pods of Orca, the only natural enemy a Megalodon would have. If Megalodon is still out there in the deeper parts of the ocean, the chances of humans ever crossing their paths are slim.

Interviewer: Yet that seems to happen a lot in your MEG series.

Alten: True. In MEG and the sequel, The Trench, man goes looking for the monster and finds him. In PRIMAL WATERS, monsters go looking for man.

Interviewer: I understand many of the attack scenes in Meg; Primal Waters take place in the same locations as these two recent Great White attacks.

Alten: Yes, in Australia and along the San Francisco coast. The areas are hotspots for Great Whites, attracted to these waters because of seals and sea lion populations.

Interviewer: So it’s not a good idea to be swimming in sea lion-infested waters?

Alten: Definitely not. Last year another fatal attack occurred in California when a female diver did just that. Another problem are shark excursions, where divers pay to witness sharks in the wild, either during feeding frenzies or while in cages surrounded by chum and bait. Essentially, sharks like Great Whites are being conditioned to associate man with food.

Interviewer: The movie, Open Water, involves smaller sharks. Will we ever see one of your MEG novels on the big screen?

Alten: I hope so. We’re actually in negotiations now with a few major studios. Hopefully a movie deal will be in place soon. People forget JAWS was made almost 30 years ago. With today’s special effects, a MEG movie would be the stuff of nightmares.

Interviewer: Until then, I guess we’ll have to settle for being frightened at the beach...or in bookstores.

Contact Leisa Cotner at (740) 756-7650 or at for permission to reprint this article.

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