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Sharks While Swimming

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Madhu Nagaraja has crossed the English Channel and the Maui Channel as well as completed the Marathon Des Sables and a 52 km crossing of Lake Ontario in traditional marathon swims. Jennifer Figge has done a number of transoceanic swims in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, far away from the shorelines. Jacques Tuset specializes in prison island swims* all over the world. Jim Anderson is a race director inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

They all spoke frankly about what goes through their minds while swimming in the ocean.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: But how can you not panic in situations where a shark swims near you?

Madhu Nagaraja: I would be lying if I said, I do not panic when a shark is spotted during a marathon swim. I would completely rely on my crew’s judgement to get me to safety in these situation. My philosophy has always been that we are in their territory and we need respect the rules of the nature. Never play with the dangerous predators in the water.

Jennifer Figge: I have used a Shark Shield since 1998 and still have all four limbs. I believe in it.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Is it possible to be ready and prepared for a shark attack?

Madhu Nagaraja: Yes. Educate the crew about the kind of sharks that predominantly live the body of the water that’s being crossed. Study about their known behavioral patterns. Always have plan of action in place when a shark is spotted within the vicinity of the swimmer. If it was to me, I would exit the water and always come back for the swim. It is really not worth it to play with the dangerous predators. I’m against killing sharks or using electrical currents to distract them.

Jennifer Figge: Moments of terror are part of transoceanic crossings, but like life, the beauty outweighs them.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What did you or would you do in a shark encounter or shark attack?

Madhu Nagaraja: I would exit the water and come back another day to complete the swim.

Jennifer Figge: In an encounter, Captain Tamas Hamor usually leaves the area…I have about an hour to wrap my head around it and dive back in. They are gorgeous creatures.

Jacques Tuset: During my Strait of Gibraltar crossing, after two hours of swimming, I was feeling confident. I felt that I was being observed from below. It really looked like a mako shark.

I observed the marine creature that was watching me and I suddenly got scared. I did not know how it was going to react. Seeing my signs of distress, the escort boat came and stayed very closely to me. They told me that it is not possible since there are only cetaceans in the Strait of Gibraltar. I followed it with my eyes the whole time. It finally passed, about three meters below me and the only thing I noticed was its tail that was different from the one dolphins have and just like the one sharks have.

I told my crew to look out if to see if it came back from behind. My coach stayed closer to me with the boat and I kept on swimming not as confident as before and more alert.

Jim Anderson: If one is attacked, I would suggest that the majority of survivors fight back or have someone come to their rescue that presents a threat to the attacker. I am unaware of the statistics, but I would suggest that the majority of survivors are aggressive types who take exception to someone invading their personal territory and fight back.

Panic is a very uncontrollable reaction. An individual who normally swam daily off Olowalu, Maui was attacked and killed by a shark some years ago. She went into a full panic mode when the shark was sighted and began to act like a wounded fish, clearly something to be eaten in the shark world. Her swimming companion did not know what to do and simply treaded water. Her only injury was a burn on her leg when a shark went by her to get at her struggling companion.

Theory is great, but the inborn individual fight or flight reaction to danger dominates the response.

* Video above shows Jacques Tuset swimming 1.3 km from Fort Royal de Sainte-Marguerite to Cannes (Palm Beach) with Ned Denison and Jean-Yves Faure.

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