Shark Happens: A Century of Research Comes Up With Clear Danger Zones for White Shark Attacks on Humans

Book review by Ben Marcus

How much do you really know about sharks?

From The Pacific Coast of North America
Ralph S Collier.
263 pages + 28 forwarding pages
9 x 12 inches, in color.
Scientia Publishing, LLC
Buy it!

Ralph S. Collier, the author of Shark Attacks of the 20th Century: from the Pacific Coast of North America, cannot imagine why surfers-of all people-would be interested in his book. Collier thinks that sharks are the last things that surfers would want to read about, but this just proves that Collier knows a lot more about sharks than he does about surfers.

Surfers are fascinated by sharks in the same way that field mice are fascinated by owls. Surfers ponder the nature and philosophy of sharks just as a grasshopper ponders the nature of a brown trout, or a small frog ponders the nature of a large-mouth bass. Surfers are fascinated by sharks because there is something chillingly anachronistic about a modern, 21st Century alpha-human getting chomped by a prehistoric Fed Ex truck with teeth. Surfers are fascinated by sharks, and especially white sharks because they are not only incredibly large, but also incredibly swift and cunning and dangerous. Surfers are fascinated by sharks because a shark attack can turn a killer sesh into a gnarly sesh very, very quickly.


Most common size for an attacking shark is approximately 15-18 feet long!

Ralph Collier doesn’t know this about surfers, but he does know more about White Sharks and their behavior than just about any human alive. The founder of The Shark Research Committee, Collier lives safely in Van Nuys, California but has his finger on the pulse of the Pacific Coast. Since 1963, Collier has been studying, researching and gathering information on shark attacks on humans, and he has condensed 40 years of that into his book with the long title that says it all.

Within S.A.O.T.20TH.C.F.T.P.C.O.N.A Collier has detailed every confirmed shark attack from 1926 to 1999, between La Jolla, California and La Push, Washington. He found 108 shark attacks, most of them White Sharks, and they are all in this book, in detail that is both clinical and gory, with color photographs, charts and maps that are also clinical and occasionally very gory.


Surfers are the second most common group attacked by sharks

Case Number One happened in 1926, when a boy and his dog were attacked by the same shark off a beach in Alameda. Case Number 108 was Jack Wolf, who was attacked by a shark at Waddell Creek in 1999. The shark got its pound of flesh from both the boy and his dog, and Jack Wolf got a gnarly ding. In between those two cases are 106 others, all of them dramatic, because there are few human experiences more dramatic than being chomped by a White Shark. If you are any bit of a surfing shark aficionado you will find your favorites in here: Hans Kretchmer’s close encounter off Point Sur in 1972; the tragic death of kneeboarder Lew Boren off Asilomar Beach in 1981; Eric “Lucky” Larsen’s brush with death at Davenport Landing in 1991 and who can forget Michael Sullivan, who was attacked by a White Shark while sailboarding off Davenport Landing in 1991.

John Ferreira, Kurt Johnston, Rodney Orr: They’re all in here and each attack is analyzed and broken down in detail that is equally fascinating and horrifying.

At the end of those 108 cases, Collier analyzes, bubbles and boils all that information into bar graphs and charts which plot all those attacks in a variety of variables: month of the year, time of day, day of the week, victim activity, victim age, water temperature, water depth and a dozen others, some of them more than a little interesting to surfers.


How far from shore are you usually sitting/waiting for waves?

The results are more than a little interesting to anyone who is interested in sharks, or in staying alive. Collier finds a big spike in attacks in the months of August, September and October, as 50% of all the attacks happened in those three months. Breaking the attacks down by activity of the victim, 50% of the attacks were on divers and 38% were on surfers and the rest were on swimmers and kayakers. Collier found that White Sharks prefer water temperature below 60 degrees, and the majority of the attacks happened in water 1 – 3 fathoms (6 to 18 feet) deep over a sandy bottom. An interesting fact to surfers is that attacks on surfers occur frequently at or near the site of a previous attack, and all locations are very similar geographically- as one might expect.


The best time of year for surfing is also the most common for shark attacks

Perhaps the strangest statistic Collier comes up with is that of those 108 cases, only 8 resulted in death. Consider that the average size of an attacking shark was 5 to 6 meters, and that a shark that big easily weighs two tons, a thinking person wonders why 15 to 18-foot, two-ton animal with razor-sharp teeth would go to all the trouble to attack but not kill.

Collier attempts to explain this by breaking down shark attacks into three categories: mistaken identity and/or predation, investigation and displacement/self-defense. That means White Sharks attack us not because they are hungry or evil, but because they thought we were seals, they didn’t know what we were, or they didn’t know or care what we were, they just wanted humans out of their turf.


Sharks have more time to kill on weekends

Since Case 108 in Collier’s book, there have been seven White Shark attacks on humans along the Pacific Coast of North America in the 21st century. Six were on surfers, which means the times (and tastes) may be a changing.


Most shark attacks are for ages 21-30

If you are a surfer who is interested in sharks, or if you are a surfer interested in keeping all your limbs and staying alive, then S.A.O.T.20TH.C.F.T.P.C.O.N.A is a must-read. Reading Collier’s finely detailed Twentieth Century statistics carefully and plotting your surfing carefully might just prevent you from becoming a statistic in the Twenty First.


*Buy Ralph Collier’s newly-released book “Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century- from the Pacific Coast of North America” at Amazon.

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