The 'Worst Shark Attack Ever' - An Example of Human Failure and an Easy Scapegoat

"I thought that I had done everything I could, but maybe I could have done more" - from an interview with a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis

The most famous of all shark attacks occurred in July of 1945. I must start by saying that as much as I love sharks.... as much as I am fascinated by them... as much as I would dearly love the opportunity one day to face one and watch one swim in its habitat.... this story brings tears and horror to my heart. I can not even attempt to imagine the fear, the waiting, and everything that the survivors faced. In many ways, those that died were so lucky in that it ended. I cannot imagine endless hours of heat and water and sun and then hours of cold and water and dark interspersed with no food and no water and no way to calm the thoughts in your head. I am not good at that anyway - despair has become so easy over the years of trial and turmoil. And in many ways, those that died took the easy way out for those that survived have so much to teach us. And we have so much to learn. And so little of what we have to learn was about sharks. This may be known as the most famous shark attack in history, but so little of its lessons are truly about sharks. They are more about us and the frailty and courage of the human spirit. They are about how humans think and how we react to adversity.

The U.S.S. Indianapolis delivered an atomic bomb and while on its way to meet up with some other ships, it was hit by two Japanese torpedoes around midnight. The ship sunk within 12 minutes with only 900 of the men aboard able to get off out of 1196 total. By dawn of the next day, sharks had begun to appear. There were very few rafts so most survivors were in life jackets that were designed for about 72 hours worth of use. The survivors were in the water in groups (slowly drifting) for four days and five nights before rescuers came. Some groups did have shark attacks- others never saw a shark attack a living human at all. All thse survivors had to deal with the extreme heat during the day, cold during the night, and the constant exposure of both with little food or water if any. By the time that the rescuers showed up only 317 men were still alive.

The first two hundred deaths are believed to be from injuries caused from escaping the sinking ship. Donald McCall, one of the survivors, when interviewed discussed the pain of jumping from the boat to the water... 60-70 feet below him. He felt that 'his body was being torn in half'. With that many dead people around as well as the living, it is not surprising that sharks did come to investigate. And with only a few exceptions, the sharks were content to eat the dead. After a day or two the sharks were less shy and were willing to try and pick off people on the extremities of the groups. However, it is believed that only about two dozens deaths could be attributed to shark attack (out of almost 900). After the first deaths from injuries sustained from evacuating the ship, the men died from numerous complications. Some died from giving up and drinking the sea water- they would usually die within about five hours sometimes with an hour or two of delirium and hallucinations. Some men got hallucinations and delusions from the extreme exposure, stress and fear. Some crew members died from being attacked by their own groups as members would have hallucinations and fight the people around them or sometimes fights would break out as people attempted to stop other men from drinking the sea water. Disillusionment would also cause fights and contributed to a high level of injury or even death. While some groups did have problems with sharks, others such as the group that was held together by Dr. Hanes lost 300 men to death, but none of the deaths was due to shark attack. George Burgess, a shark expert and the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research from the University of Florida, studied and interviewed as many of the survivors as he could. His estimate is about 12 dozen deaths from shark attack, 500+ from exposure, drowning, salt poisoning, etc..., about 200 from initial evacuation injuries and the remainder of death are attributed to the men who were unable to get off the ship. So while this naval disaster – the worst naval disaster ever in U.S. History- did have problems with sharks, the tales of 'mass shark feeding frenzies' are truly over exaggerated. George Burgess states that in doing this research, he discovered that the 'sharks behaved the way sharks are supposed to behave in their natural environment'.

Unfortunately, the rescue of these men doesn't end the sad and horrifying tale. Later it was discovered that the Navy command knew that this ship was missing and did nothing. They received the distress signal and did... nothing. The survivors were spotted four days later on accident by a passing plane. The public announcement of the disaster was made two weeks later- politically timed to be overshadowed by the announcement of the Japanese surrender. The Captain of the ship, Captain McVay, was then blamed for the accident and court martialed. Later evidence was released that showed he was a scapegoat and that others sent his ship out knowing that the area was not safe, refused his requests for a safety escort, and later ignored evidence in his favor to allow for his successful prosecution. (In 2000, the Japanese commander of the submarine that sunk the U.S.S. Indianapolis and who was a witness as McVay's trial said of the trial - "I had a feeling it was contrived from the beginning." This trial effectively ended his career, but did not end the hate mail and painful phone calls dealing with this event. In 1968, Captain McVay committed suicide with his Navy-issued revolver. Not until several years later, did declassified documents show not only his innocence, but the true and horrifying failures by the Navy mentioned above. In October 2000, President Clinton signed a resolution passed by Congress that ...Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis."

The stories of the survivors are of personal courage, fortitude, perseverance – not just stories of sharks and what they do. And the lessons of politics, betrayal, and sacrifice are lessons that we need to keep in mind today as we watch our politicians make decisions for us. We need to remember that sometimes, decisions are made that are truly what is best for the well placed minority and not for the majority of individuals... that many individual lives can and will be sacrificed to make one individual's living easier and more comfortable. That should never be tolerated. In the end, the largest shark attack ever was truly the fault of humans. And was compounded by human error, selfishness, and dishonesty. May all of us take a few minutes to sit and remember those that died and remember their suffering...as well as the suffering of those who lived and pledge to help alleviate suffering that we see in the other people that surround us. Let us remember that human failure accounts for much suffering. Let us remember that we have the power to help. No one else has the power that every individual holds in their own hands. Make it count!


The Predictability of Shark Attack

If there is anything that is predictable about sharks, it is that every attack no matter how 'minor' will be reported in full and chilling detail (if detail is not available, supposition seems to sometimes be used by media outlets, observers, medical providers, etc...). The larger it is, not only will it be reported on in great detail, but the stories will become legend and the facts and gossip will continue on to be discussed, dissected and embellished until the attack itself seems to be something out of a nightmare and not what it most likely is... a human being who has entered another environment that is not his native environment and (in most cases) has broken some basic rules that make them a more likely accidental target.

Our planet has billions of people that thrive and move on its surface- the numbers who will ever be party to a shark attack are so small and the number of people that will die from such attacks are extremely rare. Unlike how the media tend to portray an attack, a shark rarely attacks a person because the shark has determined that that the prey is human, edible, and then it attacks for its dinner. Instead, a shark bites because it is curious, confused, or distressed. Like the small baby puppy you bring home who chews on everything (including you) to explore its world, a shark explores much of its world through its skin and mouth. It has no hands and does not breathe air. In most ways, a shark has not changed evolution-wise in millions of years. It swims and hunts for food as, like us, a shark cannot concentrate on leisure until its basic needs are met. And a shark has a very simply brain. It is a strong and powerful collective myth that teaches us to anthropomorphize sharks- to believe that they think like us and feel like us... and therefore since they bite and they attack out of nowhere and the dark depths of water that they are evil, angry beasts. This attitude allows us to feel adversarial towards them and also justify what we do to them in our fear.

There are around 440 known breeds of sharks. They vary in size, shape, behavior, territory, and food consumption. However, a short poll on the street will find that most individuals know two hard facts about sharks. They will know maybe one of two breed names (usually tiger shark or the most popular great white shark) and they will know that sharks kill you and many people die per year. While I cannot say that the breed names are incorrect, the generalization of 'lots of people' or 'tons of people' simply doesn't consist with the facts. With very few exceptions, out of the millions of people that go swimming in the ocean every year all over the world very few people will ever see a shark in its natural habitat let alone be injured by one. As far as I can discover, these are the attacks across the entire world in the last month.

1. In May, a man in Australia was knocked off of his board and bitten on his leg. The breed of shark is unknown and he (the victim, not the shark) is in good spirits.

2. On June 10th in Florida, a young women was bitten by a shark while playing on a boogie board- she received 29 stitches. The breed of the injurious shark is unknown and her bite appears to be 'exploratory' – an 'oops' as a shark showed interest and then realized that she was not anything that he had interest in.

3. On May 18th, two women were bitten by 'a fish' while swimming off a beach of Vietnam. They were led to shore and given medical care. Her injuries are similar to those previously inflicted by sharks.

4. In May, a man was surfing at Point Plomer and he was bitten by a bull shark on his leg. He was treated by a paramedic and he walked away with no major injuries. There was a lot of fishing going on and it is believed that the bull shark was chasing the fish.

5. On April 13th, a young boy was bitten on his leg in Port Alfred, South Africa while surfing. After some surgery he returned home.

All of these attacks were tragedies and scary and painful for those involved. I am not suggesting that because shark attacks are so rare that they are not serious and important to the parties involved. They are also sometimes fatal. But across this vast world, only a handful of people have been attacked by a shark in the last month or so and all have survived. All were swimming in conditions that are considered by most scientists to place them at a higher risk of a shark attack- murky water, in the water with a shark's prey, and swimming early in the morning and during dusk. These conditions are much more likely to cause confusion to a shark and make him more likely to make an exploratory bite. Make no mistake, the fact that these people are still alive and pretty well is because the shark was not all together serious about eating them. The shark recognized that what he bit into was not his usual fare, was different... and possibly other explanations that I can not fathom- in a way I am anthropomorphizing too. :) This year there has been only one documented death which occurred February 3, 2010 to a man who was kite surfing in Florida. He died from blood loss due to the bite he sustained from a bite to the leg.

So while the majority of people believe that sharks and shark attacks are numerous and unpredictable, this is not statistically the case. In fact, in many ways sharks are very predictable. If you swim with seals or in schools of fish, then you are likely to be attacked. If you swim in dirty, murky water- especially when the sky itself is not bright and sunny, then you are at a great risk of a shark sensing your presence and becoming curious about what you are. It can not see you so it will check you out ...with a little bite. With the millions of people who use the oceans for recreation and for a livelihood, numerous is a vast exaggeration. In fact, there is some evidence that shark attack numbers are going down. Some scientists suggest that the numbers are going down due to fewer people traveling to beaches because of the recession. Others suggest that sharks have been hunted by humans too harshly and there are not as many sharks out in the oceans for human beings to intersect with. The numbers of many large shark species have declined by more than 50% due to increased demand for shark fins and/or meat and tuna and swordfish fisheries. (millions of sharks are taken as bycatch each year at these fisheries) Some large shark species have been estimated to have losses at over 90%. So sharks clearly have much, much more to fear from us than any of us do from them.

So when you go to the beach this summer, and look down at the water, before you jump in.... take a moment to remember your place in this world. Remember that Heavenly Father has given us righteous dominion over the land and the animals, but righteous dominion is no guarantee. Remember that we are visitors here (especially in the ocean) and that our Father loves all of his creations and all of his creations have a place and a purpose. Just as we do.


Seven Days Left....

In just a week I head back to Brooklin. I have accomplished quite a few things since I left to try and get my head screwed on again... some of which might not be considered accomplishments by a few people, but ya got to have some fun...right?

Anyway, here is what I have accomplished:

1. I am sleeping again and for the most part I am sleeping straight through the night.
2. I have seen a few films and had a few laughs.
3. I have worked at purchasing homeschooling supplies for Bug including French language books.
4. I have dyed my hair temporarily red/purple which looks pretty awesome and I have purchased a few more pieces of body jewelry to have a little fun with my piercings.
5. I have done my 'homework' faithfully with very few slip ups and my brain is feeling a lot less close to 'emotional bankruptcy'.
6. I made a list of goals for my future and have attempted to start them and break them into the smaller parts to complete them.
7. I finished the paperwork that the school needed so I can go to school this fall.
8. I just feel better and I have gained some weight.

So I have a week to finish up. I still have some work to do and will have for quite a while, but I think that I am finally on track. Finally! I promise not to waste the good and useful time I have left. I will continue to eat well and work. And I will also continue to have fun and rest so I come home refreshed and ready for the big work ahead. I miss my family and I am ready to be back!


History of a Song: June - “Each Life That Touches Our Life For Good”

This song was written by Karen L. Davidson and the music was written by A. Laurence Lyon. This song was pretty interesting to research because I discovered that both artists are members of the LDS church. In my random 'picking' of songs, I haven't really hit on that phenomenon. In fact I have started to get the idea that most authors and composers of hymns that are included in the current LDS hymnbook are not actually members or even enthusiasts of the Mormon church.

Karen Lynn Davidson was born in 1943 in the United States. Ms. Davidson received her first two degrees from Brigham Young University and her doctorate from the University of Southern California. Later she did some post-doctoral research and also taught English as a school or two. She is an author as well as a hymnwriter. She has written two hymns including “Each Life...” that are included in the current LDS edition of the English hymnbook. She was one of two editors of the recent publication of Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry (Documents in Latter-day Saint History) which was published in 2009. Karen Davidson was also interviewed by J. Stapley who writes for the LDS blog “By Common Consent”about her work. She is currently working as a co-editor of one of the volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

A. Laurence Lyon was born in 1934 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. His father was serving as the President of the Netherlands mission of the Mormon church. He became a great piano player and at age 16, he was called as the organist for his LDS congregation. He served a mission in the Netherlands and he also sang at the dedication of the LDS Swiss Temple. A. Lyon got his bachelor's degree at the University of Utah and then later received a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. He became a very productive composer. He has been active in his participation with the music for several temple dedications. Two of his works are included in the current edition of the LDS hymn book including “Each Life...” and songs in the Children's Songbook (Primary hymn book) including “An Angel Came To Joseph Smith” and “Christmas Bells”.

I must confess that I had never heard this song that I know of until a few weeks ago. I was flipping through the hymnal the other day while listening to a speaker and this song just caught my eye and I couldn't let it go. I came home and listened to it several times over the last few weeks. It seems to grow on me the more I listen to it... Have you heard this song? Do you have any particular thoughts about it? Do you know the authors so you can give us an idea of the inspiration behind their work? I am very interested....!