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Tread carefully when wading through shark stories

There have only been a few dozen shark attacks recorded off the Carolinas since 1935, according to the International Shark Attack File, a registry maintained by the University of Florida.
There have only been a few dozen shark attacks recorded off the Carolinas since 1935, according to the International Shark Attack File, a registry maintained by the University of Florida. Kansas City Star

There was a time, not too long ago, when my daughter was willing to let me get eaten by a shark.

It was the summer of 2012, and we were in the Caribbean, at a resort that had a trampoline raft anchored maybe 150 feet off shore.

One morning – before anyone else was on the beach – she decided we’d swim out to it together. But there were rules, she told me.

“OK, so you’re swimming first and I’ll follow you. That way, if a shark comes, it’ll eat you. But when we get out there, I’m climbing onto the raft first. That way, if a shark comes, it’ll eat you.”

She didn’t want to just hang out on the raft, though; she wanted to jump off of it, several times. This activity involved more rules, similar to the other ones.

“You’ll jump off first, and distract the sharks. Then I’ll jump in. Wait for me to climb out, then once I’m back on the raft, you can get on, too. If you see a shark, swim back toward the beach so it’s not near me.”

We ended up having a wonderful, shark-free dip in the ocean, capped off with her swimming about 90 miles per hour back to dry land in an effort, she said, to “get out before the sharks could see me.”

This is all to say that, when news broke Sunday about the two shark attacks that seriously injured a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl at a beach in Oak Island, N.C., I didn’t show her the stories.

Maybe it was a bad decision. Maybe I’m sheltering her from the dangers of the world, to her detriment. Maybe I’m a bad parent.

It’s just that ... given her fear of sharks, I want her to be able to keep things in perspective, and it’s easy to lose perspective in situations like this. She’s as reactionary as the next person: If she sees one story, she’ll look for another, then another, then another, I guess perhaps to confirm that yes, indeed, she should continue to be afraid of sharks.

Now, I’m not naive. I realize this is news. It’s the first shark attack in that area of North Carolina since the 1970s. So two in one day? Unprecedented.

It’s all the more chilling because – although neither attack was fatal – both children lost limbs, and both sharks struck in water that was only waist-deep. But once you have this information, dwelling on the details does nothing but feed your fears, which in the grand scheme of things are probably pretty irrational.

These kids were maimed, which is awful, gut-wrenching, devastating for them and for their families. That’s a fact.

However, so is this: According to one study, your chances of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million. Your chances of getting killed by a shark? Less than 1 in 264.1 million. Meanwhile, your odds of dying of heart disease or cancer are 1 in 7, and you have a 1 in 112 chance of getting killed in a car accident, according to the National Safety Council.

So instead of giving in to the temptation to consume every gory detail about the Oak Island attacks, make a mid-year’s resolution to stop texting your office crush while driving, or to start using your darn turn signal, or to cut out Big Macs, or to get off your butt and exercise a few times a week.

Or, simply take your kid to the beach, and if you can free your mind of any thoughts of sharks, play with her in the ocean. Just remember: You go in first, and you get out last.

Good luck.

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

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