Shark experts say fears mostly unfounded

- As the water warms up, many Floridians will venture into the Gulf or the ocean, but some people are weary of what's become public enemy number one - the shark.

Experts at the Florida Aquarium told FOX 13 News, there's very little fact behind the fears many hold.

Shark Season Advice

 "Jaws was a fantastic movie, but not the best PR for sharks," said Eric Hovland, associate curator at the Florida Aquarium.

Hovland and his colleagues work to spread some good PR for sharks. He said the chance of being bitten and killed by a shark are about one in 3.7 million. That means, you're more likely to be killed by fireworks or lightning than a shark. 

Still, people look for ways to repel sharks. Experiments have used the scent of dead sharks to drive them  away.

A newer repellent available to purchase is called Sharkband. It's worn around the ankle and its designers claim it's a magnetic repellent.

Hoveland said he hasn't used it, but sharks can sense electromagnetic energy. 

"They have a whole series of pores on their bodies, in their faces, in particular, that helps them detect electrical fields," Hovland explained.

Into the Shark Tank

Shark bites are rare, but they do happen.

Recently a small nurse shark bit down on a woman in Boca Raton. She was taken to the hospital with the shark still attached to her arm. Investigators found people had been antagonizing the shark just before the bite.

"I would say close to 100-percent of these so-called attacks is someone messing with the shark," said Jim Abernathy, a shark expert who was at the scene.

At the aquarium, employees tell visitors sharks seldom bother people. To make their point, they offer scuba divers the chance to dive with sharks in the aquarium's main tank.

FOX 13's Lloyd Sowers took the opportunity.

Aided by the aquarium's dive masters, he made the 20-foot descent and looked over to to see the objects of the dive, several "good-sized" sharks.

They were sand tiger sharks and nurse sharks, and there was no cage separating them from Sowers. The first time one swam in his direction, he said he found himself holding his breath.

"I must admit, although I've done considerable diving in open water, I've never been this close to a shark," Sowers said. "He just passes at a distance of six inches and keeps swimming."

Beach Tips

"You were close to the shark and the shark was close to you, and he could see you clearly," Hovland described. 

He said, if sharks can see you, they can tell you're not food.

His tips for beach-goers included, "don't  go by yourself... Bring your friends or go to a popular beach where lots of people are out there swimming. And go during the day when the sharks can see you, and frankly, avoid you." 

He said sunsets are most safely viewed from the beach, not the water.

"When the sun starts to go down, the sharks are out looking for food; dusk and dawn, murky waters, not good places to go swimming," said Hovland.

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