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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fight-or-Flight Response When Sharks Are Spotted

The fight-or-flight response is a normal human reaction that occurs when there is a perceived or actual event, attack, or threat to survival.

On land, the physiological changes and results are well-documented and well-known.

But does anything change when an open water swimmer or triathlete is in the ocean and a potentially dangerous situation presents itself?

Does the usual fight-or-flight responsefight-or-flight response still hold true? If a shark approaches a swimmer or triathlete, what do they normally do? Do they stop and fight to survive? Do they take off swimming madly in escape? Or do they just freeze and stay in place?

The fight-or-flight response is activated by the body's autonomic nervous system in order to give the body increased strength and speed in anticipation of fighting or running. In the case of being out in the ocean without the ability to out-swim a shark (or other creatures from whales to sea snakes), the ability to fight or flee is obviously significantly reduced. The effectiveness of a punch, a kick or a sprint are less optimal options in the water than on land.

So while the brain and body kick into overdrive and specific physiological changes occur, is there also some sort of inherent acknowledgement by the brain that the normal fight-or-flight is actually becomes a fight-or-flight-or-freeze in the ocean, especially far away from shore or one's escort boat and crew?

That is, in the case of a bear or a criminal approaching or attacking a person, the victim experiences increased blood flow to the muscles that are diverted from other parts of the body, increased blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, and fats in order to supply the body with extra energy, an enhanced blood clotting function in order to prevent excessive blood loss in the event of an injury, increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength, dilated pupils to help see with increased clarity, and increased perspiration to prevent over-heating due to the increased metabolic rate.

The resultant burst of speed and strength that is normally activated on land is clearly stifled in the water. Some humans like Gary Hall Jr. and Achmat Hassiem instinctively switch to the fight mode. But it is interesting that both Hall (read his shark encounter account here) and Hassiem (read his shark encounter account here) were also of the mind to protect their siblings who were also in the water at the time. Like a mother protecting her child, we wonder if a younger sister (in the case of Hall) or a younger brother (in the case of Hassiem) were not also in the water at the same time, if there would have been a similar response?

Or do you flee, sprinting wildly to the nearest shore or boat? While this may not be the most well-advised move, some swimmers instinctively panic and logic is a lower priority than the inherent need to quickly move away from the shark.

Or do you simply freeze with your heart pounding and every cell in your body screaming that end the nightmare and hoping the shark will simply swim away uninterested in any actual encounter?

One never knows until that moment comes.

Bob Placak, an experienced open water swimmer from Tiburon, California, perhaps had the optimal response. He stayed cool, calm, and collected while constantly eyeing the shark (read his account here). His response was very similar to the awe and respect that Penny Palfrey expressed and demonstrated when she calmly swam over two Great White Sharks without a hitch in her stroke or a gasp of her breath. Their examples provide an alternative to fight-or-flight: a period of heightened awareness where he focused on the shark and its possible and probable behavior.

We also wonder if there are any gender-based differences between males and females when a shark encounter is imminent. We know of one example when Linda Kaiser and Mike Spalding were both swimming side-by-side in Hawaii and a shark came swimming up from the depths towards them. Spalding courageously cocked his arm up in order to punch the shark as Kaiser stayed close by his side. On land, males are more likely to respond to an emergency situation with aggression as Spalding did in the Pacific Ocean, while females are more likely not.

However, in our own case when a large tiger shark was seen several meters below us at least 400 meters off of Diamond Head on Oahu in 1987, our first instinct and initial response was to sprint immediately to shore and not look down. Shock and fear dominated our immediate response. Fleeing - not fighting or freezing - was our only goal. After what may have been more than several seconds, we dropped our kick and arm turnover to a much slower rate and kept scanning the ocean below to confirm the shark's location. When the shark was not seen, we felt panic. And when the shark came back into our view, we felt an even greater sense of panic. The "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" experience played havoc to our thought process and short-circuited our logic. "Get to shore fast" was our only goal. Our heart was still racing and our breath still short several minutes after reaching shore and sitting down on the sand with the ultimate joy and relief.

But everyone is different in the water given the environment. What was your response? What might be your response? It is a topic we will explore further.

Photo shows professional marathon swimmer George Park swimming near a large shark during a 1968 swim in Rhode Island.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE CONFERENCE

The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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Open Water Swimming Magazine

The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

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The Other Shore


The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. Her past and present collide in her obsession with a feat that nobody has ever accomplished. At the edge of The Devil’s Triangle, tropical storms, sharks, venomous jellyfish, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all prove to be life-threatening realities. Timothy Wheeler’s documentary brings Diana Nyad’s extraordinary adventure to life as Diana sets out to prove that will and determination are all you need to make the unimaginable possible.
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2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac



An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

This, for example, was the purpose of the traditional farmers almanacs. It enabled farmers to determine as accurately as possible which crops to plant for the greatest harvests in a given year.

But the farmers almanac was just one example among many.
There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

In fact, there is even one for open water swimming...

Preview the Open Water Swimming Almanac:
https://www.worldopenwaterswimmingassociation.com/preview-open-water-swimming-almanac


The trends are very clear.
The tide is rising for open water swimming.

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