Sharks and the rules

After just completing a swim around Koh Tao Island the other day, after two hours I was met with six sharks coming up from the deep blue directly towards me.

You can imagine what was going through my head, the boat stopped and I headed towards the back of the boat and tread water for a few minutes while I watched them underneath me. After about 2 minutes they went away, and for the next few hours all I could see when I was swimming were dark images of sharks. All in my head I know.

So my question is looking at the marathon swimming rules it does not cater for incidents that can be life threatening.

Can I have some clarity on what is the best cause of action, and to be within the rules?

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Comments

  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member

    I'd see it in quite simple terms. Hop out, perhaps having swum my fastest ever 50m freestyle, and not give a damn about the rules. In leave others to ruminate over the intricacies if the various scenarios but I'd be more than happy to be on the boat, with me and any support swimmers or kayakers, safe.

    wendyv34phodgeszohoSydneDCoppermill
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    What kind of sharks? There is a lot of space between shark sighting and life threatening situation.

    But I do agree with Jim... Not just for a dangerous sea life encounter, but for any life threatening situation.

    GlobalSwimmer

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • CoppermillCoppermill TravellingMember

    I agree with Jim about getting out. Swimming fast is however not the best cause of action as with any predator if they see something fleeing they will give chase.

    So are you saying the rules do not cater for any life threatening situations?

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited June 2015

    Coppermill said: So are you saying the rules do not cater for any life threatening situations?

    If you're asking if you can get on the boat, then re-enter the water later and finish the swim, and have it "count" the same as someone who never exited the water... then no, MSF Rules don't allow mulligans.

    I've heard that the Cook Strait Swim has a "shark break" provision, but unfortunately their website has no posted rules or information about how often this provision has been utilized, so who knows?

    I know that if I was forced out of the water by a large shark, it would feel wrong to claim I "finished" the swim after getting on the boat. Try again some other day!

    david_barraAnthonyMcCarleyNoelFigartgregocGlobalSwimmerrlmlotechnotech
  • CoppermillCoppermill TravellingMember

    Yes I know Cook Strait Swim have a 10 minutes provision in their rules, undocumented as with many other things, should you encounter a shark.

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited June 2015

    Coppermill said: Yes I know Cook Strait Swim have a 10 minutes provision in their rules, undocumented as with many other things

    [bold added]

    Slightly off-topic, but... My feeling is that one of the basic duties of a marathon swimming "governing body" is having explicitly stated/published rules and consistent standards for ratification. "Undocumented" rules lead to variability in interpretation and enforcement, and ambiguity in the historical record.

    Unfortunate as this swim is one of the Oceans Seven... one might wonder, How many of these swims used a "shark break" ? -- which would be a DQ on any other swim

    GlobalSwimmerrlm
  • CoppermillCoppermill TravellingMember
    edited June 2015

    evmo said: My feeling is that one of the basic duties of a marathon swimming "governing body" is having explicitly stated/published rules and consistent standards for ratification. "Undocumented" rules lead to variability in interpretation and enforcement, and ambiguity in the historical record.

    You're thinking is very much like mine, perhaps we will never know?

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member

    The issue with not allowing a shark exemptions is that is that it could encourage poor behaviors, for example:

    a) Changing the criteria under which a swimmer is pulled to minimize the risk of pulling (and a DQ) vs the minimizing the risk to the swimmer.

    b) Use of armed guards (either in or out of the water) to potentially kill or injure threatening sharks(*)

    (*) The MSF rules do say that harming wildlife is against the spirit of Marathon Swimming but it is not exactly clear what the consequences of violating the spirit are.

    Probably for the majority of swimmers this is not a real issue, but as we see more high value (e.g. world record attempts and other swims with high PR components, or swims that involve high cost to set up or rare conditions) then I think it is inevitable that both more of a) or b) will occur, especially as swims expand to new locations that may be bit more shark infested than say the English Channel.

    At least one of the Around Key West Swims has a lightning exemption (which represents a similar issue to sharks i.e. a possibly transient risk to the swimmer) and apparently the Maui channel relay has some sort of exemption for not having a swimmer in the water. Admittedly mass participation swims tend towards focusing on the race aspect (i.e. fairness) and less on the purity of the swim, but these exemptions are at odds with the MSF rules as they stand as well.

    Note I don't really have a horse in this race (there are too many swims that do not involve sharks that I haven't done yet to have me wondering about doing a shark swim, and I am never breaking any records), but I think it is worth looking from the point of view that one of the roles of rules is to encourage safe behaviors. If shooting sharks is something that we don't want, then not allowing shark time-outs likely will end up encouraging swimmers to stay in the water with a possibly aggressive shark which seems like a poor idea.

    As a thought experiment, I would be interested to hear from people as what they think the minimum time out of water you would need to gain an advantage on a warm water swim or a cold water swim? And what the particular advantage gained would be?

    It does seems like a short break from a cold water swim may actually be counter productive if blood flow from the extremities re-starts and triggers the after drop (assuming not crazy body-warming solutions). Feed options would increase while you are on a boat though which could be an advantage if you having issues in that area.

    dpm50Coppermill

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • CoppermillCoppermill TravellingMember

    David thank you for your response, I'm glad I started this debate, if only to bring awareness to a future issue which will need to be looked at.

    The issue is fraught with problems and you have mentioned a few of them here.

    Is there a way to bring this issue up with the rule makers of Marathon swimming, and put a proposal forwards?

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member

    How about having safety rules? Such as, if a shark comes within a certain distance of a swimmer the swimmer must leave the water and the swim has ended. I could be wrong, but I think only an aggressive shark would come close to a swimmer next to a power boat. It should also be stipulated in the rule that a shark should not be touched or harmed in an attempt to keep it outside the safe distance stipulated in the rules.

    dpm50
  • CoppermillCoppermill TravellingMember

    gregoc said: How about having safety rules? Such as, if a shark comes within a certain distance of a swimmer the swimmer must leave the water and the swim has ended. I could be wrong, but I think only an aggressive shark would come close to a swimmer next to a power boat. It should also be stipulated in the rule that a shark should not be touched or harmed in an attempt to keep it outside the safe distance stipulated in the rules.

    The six sharks that approached me last week, felt aggressive to start with, but after watching them with me they were more curious than aggressive

  • GlobalSwimmerGlobalSwimmer New York NYMember

    This is the closest thread I found - several swimmers were pulled out of the water - and disqualified today during the Rottnest Channel after some shark sighting. I agree with the points raised by @evmo but it seems quite unfair that only those competitors whose pilots were more conservative (or freaked out) were DQed. Any new developments on the issue in the last 2.5 years? I am especially concerned given I am swimming the P2P in the same Channel in 3 weeks time and wouldn't like to be DQed (or eaten, for that matter!). Thx

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 24

    It's frustrating when swims are aborted due to factors outside the swimmer's control. Whether it's weather, or jellies, or boat engine trouble... or sharks. It's the ocean!

    My personal feeling is the integrity of the swim ("continuous" means no breaks) is a far greater priority than having to finish on a given day, regardless of whether an organization happens to create an exception to standard rules to appease paying customers.

    I would recommend having a frank discussion with your P2P pilot about your personal threshold for getting out if you happen to attract the curiosity of a shark.

    rlmdavid_barraGlobalSwimmergregocIronMikeJustSwimCopelj26
  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    It is interesting to compare some of the perils of major open water swims with other extreme efforts such as mountain climbing or polar exploration. In these historic attempts, the weather conditions, animals, equipment and environmental factors all conspire to either help or hinder the eventual success or failure of the endeavor. Either you make it to the end or you don't. So you have to try again another day. I don't think anyone could claim a summit if they were almost at the top but had to turn back because of lightning on the ridge, for example.

    I think the assumption of risk needs to be agreed on at the beginning of the swim. Some people may be more comfortable with a higher degree of risk. But we all can agree that sometimes it's better to live to fight another day. At least when it comes to swimming.

    evmodpm50GlobalSwimmerCopelj26
  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    I've DNFed occasional swims (marathon and shorter), and always in the interest of health/safety. It's not my preferred ending but c'est la vie. I've learned to see the positives in those DNF swims. As in... I didn't finish the distance attempted, but I did x no. of miles, improved on x skills, etc. In one case, I had to be pulled from a 5.4 mile swim b/c I'd gotten too far off course and was up against the time limit. But later the kayaker told me I'd actually gone about six miles, so although I didn't have an official finish, I had a great training swim for an 8 miler that I did finish.

    As for sharks, for me, safety would take priority, and if that meant the swim didn't count, so be it.

    Not sure if it would be feasible to have a special category of "finishing" a swim affected by a shark sighting or lightning, maybe "finish but with asterisk" or such--but that seems like it would throw in more complications and questions. So I'm inclined to agree with @gregoc re safety rules.

    Stuff happens, and not every swim is going to proceed according to plan--and if the safety rules mean an unfinished swim, it's part of the chance one takes.

    My reasons for swimming any distance: to enjoy being in the water, stretching my limits, exploring new places, having a ball--oh, and hurting lol! My goals tend to be process-, rather than outcome-oriented. Finishing a long swim is great--icing on the cake so to speak... but each swim I've done opens another door, invites more exploration, and I'm grateful for both the finishes and the DNF's.

    rlmGlobalSwimmerIronMike
  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member

    This is all moot for me since I have an incredibly low risk threshold and certainly wouldn't be hanging about trying to assess a shark's mood.

    But more seriously, I think that the swimmer's personal risk threshold (for example, in relation to sharks) is much less important than the risk assessment of those who have taken on responsibility for swimmer safety - e.g. pilots, organisers. When something goes seriously wrong for a swimmer, it affects everyone involved in potentially quite serious ways. There is a strong case for discussion ahead of a swim between all the players about the management of risk, but as swimmers, we have to remember that the risks are not only ours.

    I agree with the argument that to get out mid-swim, for whatever reason, is a DQ. But to make this rule workable, we also have to agree that those who have taken on responsibility for our safety get to make the decision without recrimination, even if we feel that decision was too conservative. Just chalk one up for the sharks and live to swim another day.

    evmoGlobalSwimmerslknightrlmdpm50curlyKatieBungregocMoCosuziedodsCopelj26
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 25

    @KarenT said: I think that the swimmer's personal risk threshold (for example, in relation to sharks) is much less important than the risk assessment of those who have taken on responsibility for swimmer safety - e.g. pilots, organisers.

    Great point. I certainly agree that if it's the swimmer's preference vs. the pilot and crew's preference, the latter should always prevail.

    I also think swimmers and their pilots/crew should strive to communicate thoroughly about their respective risk thresholds, in waters where certain categories of risk exist, to minimize the chance of any disagreement on the water.

    For example with Sarah's Champlain swim, there was the issue of lightning - which she and her team discussed well beforehand and came to an understanding about. Ultimately, @malinaka as lead pilot, and Ryan and @uss_lenning as crew chiefs had the final call, and I know she would have respected that.

    As another example, one of the most experienced Kaiwi Channel kayakers insists on discussing tiger shark protocol with each of his swimmers, and the protocol varies depending on the swimmer's expressed risk tolerance. Some swimmers want to get out at the slightest hint of a fin; other swimmers choose to let the shark express a tendency, aggressive or otherwise. Most are just swimming around minding their own business.

    With a huge event such as Rottnest, with hundreds of swimmers in the water, clearly the organizer deserves much leeway in making safety decisions, and swimmers who get pulled are free to try a solo on a different day.

    dpm50
  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member

    I like the idea of having a range of protocols that can be presented by those experienced in those waters and discussed as a team, depending on risk tolerances of all involved...and with a clear bottom line of who gets the final call. And i think there's an important distinction to be drawn between single-team solos and mass participation events, where an organiser may not be in a position to make a nuanced judgement about the relative risks of individual swimmers and will need to err on the side of caution.

    dpm50
  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    edited February 27

    dpm50 said: I've DNFed occasional swims (marathon and shorter), and always in the interest of health/safety. It's not my preferred ending but c'est la vie. I've learned to see the positives in those DNF swims. As in... I didn't finish the distance attempted, but I did x no. of miles, improved on x skills, etc. In one case, I had to be pulled from a 5.4 mile swim b/c I'd gotten too far off course and was up against the time limit. But later the kayaker told me I'd actually gone about six miles, so although I didn't have an official finish, I had a great training swim for an 8 miler that I did finish.

    Totally agree. Each one of my DNFs, and there are many, were learning events.

    I agree with @dpm50 that having any sort of "finish but with asterisk" would complicate an already busy job as I imagine being an RD is. I have no issues being listed as DNF for my 20 Bridges. I swam under all 20 Bridges. I simply was ill-prepared for the East's change in current and had to be removed and moved up-river 1.5k. My bad and a huge lesson learned for next time. I now look at that day as two practice swims. One a warm-up of 7+ miles and the other a nice long swim of about 20 miles. ;)

    Like @dpm50, I am happy being in the water. Sure it would be great to have another "notch" in the longswimsdb, but that's not why I swim. I enjoy being in the open water, even if most of the time after I start I wonder WTF I was thinking.

    dpm50Copelj26

    Please join the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on FB!

  • JaimieJaimie NYCCharter Member

    @GlobalSwimmer to be clear I don't think it was that swimmers' pilots were too conservative and then were DQ'd - I believe after the sighting the race director designated a certain zone around the sighting and swimmers in the zone were directed to be immediately pulled for safety reasons.

    Apparently some swimmers/teams did as they were told and some did not. There are also rumors currently of at least one swimmer who was pulled but then got back in and then acted as if they had finished, which is a separate issue. It's not fair but the swimmers who did not finish because they were in that zone and got out did the absolute right thing. When you sign up for an organized event the Race Director's decision is the last word on whether you may continue the swim or not. The others unfortunately did the wrong thing.

    Either way, I know you're not that kind of swimmer - you are driven and have a big personal goal, but if things don't work out you will do the right thing and find another way to complete your goal. in the meantime don't stress about something you can't change!

    evmoJustSwimslknightKarenTKarl_KingerygregocMaryStella
  • GlobalSwimmerGlobalSwimmer New York NYMember

    Thank you very much @Jaimie. Yup, I also heard that it was Race Director's call, and in that case, it also means end of the discussion for me - I am driven and ambitious but not unprofessional so I'd of course respect that. In any case, a tough call that affected (and potentially saved?) many people

    JustSwimevmoKarenTJaimieMaryStella
  • Story about the swimmer who spotted the shark:

    watoday.com.au/wa-news/its-under-the-boat-its-under-the-boat-rotto-swimmer-tells-of-moment-he-spotted-great-white-shark-20180226-h0woc1.html

    So the swimmer that spotted the shark (it swam underneath him!) and whose team notified officials was able to finish his solo because by the time officials made the call he (the swimmer) had swum far enough to be outside the 1km exclusion zone! :o No wonder people were pissed that they got pulled out. On another note he's a nutter, swam butterfly the whole way in 7hrs 20min. :o

    gw

    IronMikeJustSwimevmoGlobalSwimmer
  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    No shark in its right mind is going to eat someone doing butterfly. Professional courtesy.

    gregorywannabeGlobalSwimmerCopelj26Kate_AlexanderMaryStelladpm50Camillewendyv34
  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    I've been in my share of races where the threat of Sharks were real. The few examples I routinely think of are Tampa Bay MS, 1999 25K Nationals in Hawaii, and the stacks of shorter races I've done one the west coast of Florida. Worrying about sharks can get in your head and eat you alive. I routinely tried to block it out and have my competition talk about it. Let them worry about it and turn the advantage to your favor. It's an easier win when their worried about things out of their control.

    dpm50
  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    People have caught some pretty large fish in the Schuylkill River where I often swim, including a 50 lb catfish. I don't ever see any fish where I swim, mainly reckless boaters who scare me more than any fish. I mostly hold to the mindiet when it occurs to me that marine life could be hungry.... "if I can't see it, it's not there!"

    That said, I abandon that outlook if someone spots an actual shark.

    Camille
  • CamilleCamille Member

    I think I am more fearful of boaters and jet skiers than of aquatic "friends"!

    dpm50Kate_AlexanderSologregoc
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