King Canute famously sought to rule the waves. The story goes that he had his throne placed on the sand and as the tide rose commanded it thus;” You are part of my dominion and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore I order you not to rise onto my land nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord”.
Not surprisingly the sea did not follow the command and today we realize that nature does not bow down to decree or regulations. Or do we?
I love the beach and for the past 25 years have been fortunate to live within walking distance of it. Yet I also know that the sea does hold potential risks for land inhabitants such as humans. Rips can pull me out to sea. And there are numerous creatures that can sting, bite or even eat me – sharks being the most headline grabbing
Last summer there was a trial of measures to reduce shark attacks off the coast. This included drum lines and attempts to bait catch and kill sharks. The government backed down after an environmental department review. And it has essentially conceded that the plan will not be revisited.
There has been much argument over the rights of sharks versus the rights of humans. I am not entering into this. What caught my interest was the state Premier lamenting that he could not guarantee safety at the beach.
On what basis can safety ever be guaranteed when nature is involved? Even if the measures introduced had continued there was no certainty that a person could not be taken by a shark. Indeed the notion of safety may make people more gung –ho. The government is protecting me, therefore the sharks will stay away and I can ignore them – not!
Risk management has become a buzzword. As the old saying goes, you take a risk getting out of bed in the morning. I would go further and add that you take a risk staying in bed too!
The notion that people can be protected from all risk is false. Sadly politicians, bureaucrats and many in public health peddle this notion.
The facts are clear. Risk is not avoidable. It can be offset and managed. The best person to do this is the individual acting in real time based on their own knowledge and skills. It would be a huge risk for me to swim the English Channel. For someone with training and skills together with a back up crew the risk is far less.
People react to risk in different ways. When it comes to sharks, some will avoid swimming in the ocean, some may venture only into shallows and others will adopt the view that a shark attack is highly unlikely and swim where they like. At the extreme end of the spectrum is a man who rode a dead whale carcass while sharks were circling.
It makes sense to have shark patrols and to get out of the water when a shark is around, in my view.
It should not be an expectation that the government can guarantee you can’t be taken by a shark any more than it can guarantee you can’t be bitten by a snake walking in the bush. Or indeed, that you can’t be struck by lightening.
Life involves risk. As we grow we need to learn to manage it. At some stage you learn to cross the road unaided. At some stage you learn to drive. All this involves risk. It cannot be eliminated by the nanny state. Indeed the more it tries to do so; the more people’s capacity to manage risk is reduced.
So this year I will continue to go to the beach. If I hear a shark alarm (which provides me with useful information) I will get out of the water.
It is not an expectation that my safety can be guaranteed!
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases.