The Inexcusable, Inhumane Lack Of Regard Of Swimmers
For years, we swam 2 miles between the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach piers in Southern California. Near the runway of the LAX International Airport, it is a conveniently located stretch of warm, clear water that is heavily populated with ocean swimmers, triathletes, surfers, body surfers, fishermen, walkers, runners, and skaters.
As an open water swimmer, it is a fantastic place to train and race as the piers are nearly 2 miles apart and the coastline is fairly straight. The coastline is lined with multi-million dollar homes, gorgeous skaters in bikinis, and buff, fit beach volleyball players. The surf is consistent as are the presence of surfers and other marine goers. With rather mellow conditions most of the time, especially in the morning, and churned up sea with the afternoon winds, the 2-mile stretch is a great training ground year-round.
We have seen all kinds of marine life over the decades, from dolphins to sting rays, turtles and fish along this outstanding course. Seaweed patches dot the shoreline as do an occasional piece of plastic. When we run into the seaweed or debris, our hearts always jump. We always fear the worse.
We clearly understand the risks of venturing past the shoreline at places like Manhattan Beach. But frankly, the inherent risk of jellyfish stings or shark bites are simply too small to give up ocean swimming. The challenge of swimming pier to pier and the joy of body surfing into the finish are much greater draws than the fears of jellyfish or shark encounters.
But we have always steered clear of the pier, especially when fishermen are out casting their lines and trying to catch fish. We were frankly more fearful of getting hooked ourselves rather than encountering a ray or shark as we approached the pier. But even at 100 meters away from the pier, we often raised our head, swimming head up and always watchful of fishing lines and fishermen purposefully casting in our direction.
There is no clear legal distinction who has the right of way or who has priority in these waters: fishermen or swimmers. But it is an unwritten, humanitarian understanding that dictates that fishermen should pull their lines or refrain from casting their hooks and lines in the direction of swimmers. Surely, fishermen get easily frustrated by swimmers splashing in the area of their focus. They would much rather fish in peace, pulling up all kinds of fish, rather than have to deal with interruptions caused by ocean swimmers who swim close to piers.
Fortunately, the peaceful, unspoken alliance between fishermen and swimmers continues for most of the time and under nearly all conditions on the many piers along the East and West coasts of America. The marine enthusiasts with fishing poles and swimming goggles easily and rightly co-exist and share their joys in the ocean.
But Steven Robles was not so fortunate. The lifelong ocean swimmer and lifeguard was caught in a terrible cascade of unfortunate events when a fisherman was hooking a shark and trying to reel the estimated 7-foot Great White Shark in as swimmers were in the water. The complete lack of regard of swimmers in the water – who were clearly in sight – and the total inattention to safety and common courtesy was shocking to see.
How this fisherman and his friends, as well as other witnesses on the pier, could not and did not consider the inherent danger of swimmers in the water near an injured, mad shark, fighting for its life with a hook deeply embedded in its mouth is simply beyond us.
If hunters shot a bear and it was running towards campers, would not the hunter try to warn the campers? With all the Discovery Channel television programs on Shark Week and movies about sharks, would not the fisherman and friends try to warn the swimmers – and even more realistically, stop trying to reel in a shark when swimmers were in the water?
It is a shocking lack of care for one’s fellow human being. Perhaps they were not thinking and perhaps they were having too much fun, but couldn’t someone on the pier have alerted the swimmers in the area? The swimmers were swimming gradually in the area where the shark was hooked; the swimmers did not suddenly come into view.
Robles and his teammates answered the emergency as best they could. Even with an obvious shark encounter and blood in the water, Robles’s teammates from SCAQ performed admirably. They quickly came to his rescue. They were clearly thinking of their teammate; they put their friend first and foremost in their minds. They pulled him to shore after the traumatic Great White Shark attack in one of the most popular beaches of Southern California.
They came to the rescue of a situation that should have never occurred at all and is a lesson for everyone who casts and hooks a shark with swimmers obviously in the water. With swimmers so clearly visible in the water and a shark fighting for its life with a hook in its mouth, swimmers can hope that someone – anyone – who is witness to such a scene would not only make the effort to warn the swimmers and stand-up paddle boarder, but also to encourage the fishermen to cut his line.
But on a weekend at a beach like Manhattan Beach, we can imagine hundreds of people must have seen the fishermen with the shark on the hook. For such a large shark to be on a hook from a pier, there is always commotion and a general understanding from people on the pier. Yet even with swimmers in the area, no one had the frame of mine to tell the fishermen to stop – or to tell the lifeguards or someone (like police officers on the beach) that swimmers are in the area with a hooked shark? We can imagine one unconcerned fishermen, but what this implies that swimmers are truly alone out there, fending for themselves.
And that should not be.
Editor’s Postscript: Sakina of OC Open Water Swims clarified the situation that appears in the video above: “The guys were not the actual fishermen who caught the shark. They were just fishing with other people at the pier and happened to see the scene and shoot it…I don’t believe they realized the gravity of the situation until later. They were just acting stupid, so stupid it seems that they sold their own video…As for the actual fisherman who caught the shark initially, he apparently stated he did not use chum.”
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