There’s a new TV show on tonight called Swimming With Monsters about, well, swimming with monsters. Or more specifically, dangerous animals that live in the water – in this case the Great White Shark, the Hippopotamus, the Anaconda and the Humboldt Squid. We chatted to the guy doing the swimming – Steve Backshall – about how not get eaten, which is pretty important should you ever decide to get into the water with a huge, deadly animal. So here are a couple of ways to prevent ending your life at the hands (fins? tentacles? claws? teeth?) of an angry water-monster:
- Get to know the animal first - Well, sort of. “It sounds crazy but sharks have different characters, you can read that in their body language. All of them are inherently different, some are more predatory, but some move in a more smooth, languid fashion and are not hostile. These ones can identify you and work out that you’re not their chosen prey – they’ll most likely stay clear of you.”
- Choose somewhere with great visibility - “If you’re going outside of the cage with Great Whites [we’re not, ever], you need good visibility because you don’t want any nasty surprises springing out from beneath the murky water. However, the image of the Great White as a maneater is greatly unfair; in the last decade only thirteen people have been killed by them. That’s 1.3 humans a year – you’re statistically more likely to be eaten by a house cat! In most situations it’s a case of mistaken identity, like a surfer at the surface being mistaken by a seal in areas of poor visibility. Luckily, usually it’s just one bite and then they’ll leave you alone because they don’t see us as prey.”
- Get the right gear - You might look like a silly billy, but wearing the right protective clothing is a must. “With the squid we went in with chain mail suits and we were tethered to the surface with steel wires so the animal couldn’t drag us down, so we took real precautions with them. They are definitely strong enough to drag a human down – the guy we were diving with had his entire scalp ripped off by a Humboldt squid once. His wrist had also been broken through the chain mail suit and he’d had his eardrum perforated by being dragged down before. These guys are tough, the record for the biggest Humboldt Squid was nine feet in length! They have a beak like a parrot, the tip is very hard and sharp and can carve clean through flesh, also each arm is lined with sucker cups which are in turn lined with teeth.” They sound delightful.
- Get off their property - A lot of animals won’t chase you down if you’re not intruding. “Hippos are the most dangerous ones, they can and have occasionally killed humans. With hippos you don’t go in towards a territorial male or a mother with a young calf. That would be suicidal.”
- Be confident - Act the hard man, basically. “Make sure you’re with the right animals and you’re going in with confidence and a strong posture, because with the hippos there’s not a massive amount you can do if they attack, you just have to be sure it doesn’t happen. Even wearing a chain mail suit would be pointless.”
- Make sure you hold your wee in, you might need it later - “To humans there are very few sea animals that will do you mortal damage. There are loads that have potential to, but hardly any use it! The box jellyfish is probably the most common offender, it’s the most venomous animal on earth, but generally the most dangerous things in the sea are riptides and currents to be honest. If you do get stung by a box jellyfish though, there are vinegar stations at certain beaches so you can cover yourself in vinegar, or you can use urine which stops extra stinging cells from firing off. Most people would recover pretty well, you’d definitely have some nasty burns though.”
- Overall, don’t be a dick - “I heard a lovely statistic by the greatest herpetologist in North America, he said ‘Rattlesnakes will only bite men between ages 15 and 35 that have been drinking heavily’ – it sums it up really and can easily apply to water creatures, chances are most animals won’t attack a human being unless one meddles with it. Give the animals respect!”
Lucky you, you are now an invincible human being!*
Swimming with Monsters premieres on Discovery Channel, Thursday 4 April at 9m, Sky Channel 520/Virgin Channel 211
*Please don’t go punching sharks in the nuts because you’ve read this – you WILL die.