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27 Jul 17

Sharks Aren’t the Real Killers On Croatia’s Coast

Sven Milekic

My family and many others are inexplicably terrified of sharks in the Adriatic - but the real danger facing visitors to the Croatian seaside is being ripped off, not ripped apart.

Illustration. Photo: Benson Kua

With parliament in recess in July, some of the Croatian media are already well enter into media “silly season” or, as readers in Croatia call it, “the season of sour cucumbers”.

With a lack of serious politics to discuss, the media in Croatia, a country heavily reliant on tourism for the last 20 years, tend now report on the tourist season itself – starting with the heat [well, you didn’t see that one coming, did you?], traffic jams, celebrity appearances on the coast, and other stories that venture into the world of the bizarre.

But what every editor really wants during the oh-so-boring summer months is sharks.

The slightest glimpse of what could possibly, potentially, in theory, be a shark fin on the blue horizon is what every newspaper prays for.

Nobody has to get bitten or eaten, nor does it have to be a dangerous species, or longer than a metre; just as long it is a real shark.

The first story about sharks in the Adriatic in 2017 came unusually early on, on June 14, with “an exclusive video” of two men chasing away a 1.5-metre blue shark on a ski jet, poking it with a harpoon, which some saw as animal molestation, as spectators could be heard saying “Poor thing!” on the video.

"An exclusive video" of chasing a poor shark on the Adriatic coast.

The next shark headline followed on July 3, with a spectacular catch of a 2-metre-long mud shark by some fishermen on the northern island of Vir.

Although it can be seen that the shark was actually 1.7 metres long, the editor rounded this up nicely to 2 metres [I would appreciate if people would do same with my height!]

For years now, these Croatian shark reports have not included any actual encounters with people, however; the last dramatic one was in 2008, when a great white almost bit off the leg of a Slovenian scuba diver off the coast of the island of Vis.

Nevertheless, such stories are well read, not only by foreign tourists but also by some Croatian swimmers.

As empirical proof of the horror of sharks among ordinary Croatian families, I give you – my family.

My family from my mother’s side has been going to the northern island of Rab for half a century. So, they are familiar with the island and well aware how “dangerous” the Adriatic is.

In 50 years of enjoying the sea, their “casualties” are down to one: my grandfather was slightly stung by a jellyfish – although an independent family commission never properly investigated the case. Nevertheless, the word “shark” is something they don’t want to hear even if they are a hundred metres from the water.

The interesting part is, I am not talking about my generation, the children in the family, but about our parents.

Besides press clippings from the papers featuring the keyword “shark”, the thing that built up their shark paranoia was Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic movie “Jaws”, still considered the best in the shark genre.

After watching it in cinemas during Yugoslav times, in sheer terror, their lives were changed forever. They were transformed from children carelessly taking a swim to terror-filled adults, always searching the water for a shark fin on the surface.

Two of my aunts, even when went for long swims, now always did so taking small routes, and only at a depth at which they could still stand.

My uncle was even more radical. Although he had a boat, he now entered the water even more rarely than the others. Days would pass and he wouldn’t take a swim. His jump into the water from the stern and retreat back to the boat was surely a world record – we’re literally talking seconds here.

He admitted his immense shark fear years ago, which could not be hidden, as he would freeze with the cigarette in his mouth when anyone started reading shark reports out loud.

He would go fishing, but even then, was extra careful if he caught anything bigger than a sardine. Jokester as he is, he said the only scuba diving he would sign up for would take place in his bathtub. And in Zagreb, just to be sure.

Despite some 25 years of us children making fun of our elders’ fears, they remain wary of the water.

Just to stress how silly those fears were, I give you the statistics. In the last 150 year, there were 11 registered fatal shark attacks off Croatian waters, starting with one off Trieste in 1868, back when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The last fatal attack took place in 1974 near Omis in Dalmatia, just before Spielberg’s film kicked in.

To put things in perspective, in 2011 alone, 982 people died from accidents due to falling from heights.

Tourists to Croatia should be more on the alert for non-shark-related dangers.

Before you even set foot in the Adriatic Sea, a bigger hazard is that you will likely spend about three hours in a queue on the border with Slovenia, or stuck in a traffic jam on the highway entrance to the St Rok tunnel.

Even if you come by plane, the chances are that the taxi driver will rip you off. Prepare also for hours of searching for a parking spot next to popular beaches, a danger to your nerves from which you may never recover.

Then there is the 10-euro cevapi meal on Zrce beach – nicknamed “Croatia’s Ibiza” – which is hazardous to both your wallet and to your health, eaten in temperatures of +35 degrees Celsius.

In the category of extreme sports, there is the discipline of “dining in the first restaurant you find on Dubrovnik’s main street, Stradun” – wallets are often declared missing after that and you’re also double checking that kuna-euro currency ratio.

Another thing to be aware of, more than sharks, is the time spent in a restaurant waiting for your meal, approaching starvation as your nerves come to the edge.

Don’t let me start on the crazy jet-skiers, who drive like they have a licence to kill.

There are realistic chances that you will find someone else lying on your towel after you leave the water. Oh, and there is also a good chance are that strong winds will stop the ferryboat line from some island, causing you to miss your booked flight. And so on, and so on…

This is why I would suggest to my family and to everyone else visiting Croatia this summer: sharks may have thousands of sharp teeth, but restaurants, bars and a good many other things on the Adriatic coast may rip you apart far worse.

Talk about it!

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