Are Sharks Afraid of Being Hit by an Asteroid?

There are definitely things we should be afraid of. The prospect of World War III comes to mind immediately, followed closely by Janet Reno admitting she didn't, in fact, have a sex change operation and Carrot Top shouting "Stella! Dial 1-800-CALL-ATT!" in a remake of "A Streetcar Named Desire." That's why it's nice to learn that some of our fears are unfounded, such as the idea that a deadly asteroid could wipe us off the face of the Earth at any moment.

This apocalyptic thought entered our collective consciousness a couple of years ago when the movies "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" came out at the same time, scaring us into thinking that our lives might imitate what someone in Hollywood apparently thought was art. But that wasn't the first we heard of it. That happened years ago when scientists announced that an asteroid which struck the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago caused the dinosaurs to become extinct and we started wondering how it was that only Barney escaped. This convinced us once and for all that there is no justice in life. It also left us wondering if it could happen again.

Luckily other scientists--or perhaps the same ones in disguise, since they all look alike in those white lab coats--recently analyzed once-secret satellite data and came to the conclusion that a catastrophic asteroid smack-down only happens about once every 1,000 years, and since the last one occurred in 1908 when a big one landed in Siberia and, as has been the case with everyone who ends up there was never heard from again, it looks like we have some time to go until the next one hits. Of course this is little consolation to Siobhan Cowton, a teenager in England who a while back said a meteorite landed on her foot, something that sounds suspiciously like an excuse you'd give your history teacher for not finishing the diorama of Napoleon honoring the baker who created the eponymous pastry. Being a smart girl, she kept the walnut-sized rock, putting it in a glass case on the mantel where it will be joined by the science fair ribbon she's bound to win for explaining how she got the bruise on her foot and the gallstone they removed from Uncle Ian which looks like Richard Nixon (as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the movie of the same last name).

I can personally vouch for the low probability of a meteor actually hitting your foot. A couple of weeks ago I spent the hours from midnight until 3:30 AM huddled under a blanket because I was locked out of the house. I mean, because the Leonids meteor shower was occurring. Reports beforehand said that up to 1,000 meteors per hour might streak across the sky. Obviously scientists don't know the meaning of the word exaggeration. Either that or they understand the meaning of the phrase "practical joke" much better. While it was definitely worth watching, it fell way below the predictions. Still, there wasn't a single report of one hitting anyone's foot. Then again, I doubt many people watching had a diorama of Napoleon honoring the baker who created the eponymous pastry due the next day. That was last month's assignment. In England.

An even more common fear is of becoming a shark's lunch, especially to people who live in landlocked states where the last reported shark attack was when someone told a lawyer joke. They really aren't common--shark attacks, not lawyer jokes. In an average year there are only 54 shark attacks around the world, with just seven of them being fatal. Considering how many people swim, surf, water ski, jet ski, snorkel, scuba dive, and have to dump pounds of sand out of their bathing suits at the end of a day at the beach, that's a very low swimming-to-chum ratio.

Here in the U.S. there were 28 shark attacks in 2000. Contrast this with the 27,000 rodent attacks, 8,000 snake attacks, and 1,278,987 times you felt attacked by that damned Dell Guy and you see that sharks are some of the last things in the world you need to worry about. Hell, there were more bear attacks that year and you don't see people running and screaming every time Smokey comes on TV, do you? Sure he doesn't have that ominous doo-doo music the Jaws shark has, but he carries a shovel, for Christ's sake. Good thing he doesn't try to get on an airplane with that thing.

The odds of being attacked by a shark in the U.S. are 1 in 5 million. You're more likely to die from a fall down the stairs (1 in 200,000), a lightning strike (1 in 4.3 million), drowning in your bathtub (1 in 800,000), or at the hands of an agricultural machine (1 in 500,000). The last one should be particularly noted by those shark-fearing folks in Iowa who probably have a much better idea of how you can die at the hands of an agricultural machine than I do. The closest thing I can relate it to is Stephen King's "Christine." On the other hand, you're more likely to be attacked by a shark than you are of winning the state lottery, which weighs in at odds of about 1 in 14 million. And it's cheaper too, since you don't buy tickets week after week hoping to be attacked by a shark. At least I hope not.

This proves that fears often have little to do with reality. If they did we wouldn't be afraid of the dark (there's nothing there that wasn't in the room when you turned off the lights two minutes ago), spiders (if Little Miss Muffett survived so can you), or Carrot Top. Okay, so not all fears are irrational. Hmmm, I wonder if asteroids and sharks are attracted to red hair.

Mad Dog can be found at His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris.

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