New Mexico has experienced a shark attack since 1900, a glaring statistic given that it is one of the few landlocked states to have experienced an incident.
It all started with a tweet.
Governor of Colorado Jared Polis posted the trivial post last week from his verified personal account, which has over 112,500 subscribers.
Colorado is tied for the state with the fewest shark attacks! ?? pic.twitter.com/mMI8HAZGra
– Jared Polis (@jaredpolis) 12 October 2021
His message is ironic. It’s even missing a word to complete a full sentence, and comes with a data graph showing shark attacks in each state. It reads: “Colorado is tied for the state with the fewest shark attacks!” (shark emoji). âColorado is one of 23 states where no shark attacks have been reported since 1900, according to the aptly named website. sharkattackdata.com.
New Mexico is not in the 23.
ABQ Biopark Aquatic Conservation and Operations Manager Kathy Lang said New Mexico’s ecosystem could never support a shark in the Rio Grande, or in any lakes or acequias, which means a shark attack could never happen here in the wild.
But an attack could and did occur in the controlled environment of the city’s aquarium on March 12, 2005.
Diver Ken Pitts was finishing a meal with sand tiger sharks and removing his wetsuit.
“So now he doesn’t pay as much attention to what’s below him,” Lang explained.
One of the animals struck him, causing him two stings of a quarter of an inch to five inches above his wrist on the forearm. Pitts’ injuries were minor, requiring six stitches, and he was diving back into the tank shortly after the incident.
This is why New Mexico does not appear on the map with a clean criminal record for shark attacks.
Sand tiger sharks typically swim with their mouths slightly open, exposing their extended teeth, Lang said. Whoever stung Pitts was no stranger to a human presence in his surroundings.
“A resident of the reservoir for 11 years, he was used to divers being in the reservoir,” read a report of the BioPark incident.
Sand tiger sharks are the only animals in the tank that have their teeth exposed outside their mouths, so bumping into that area could accidentally cause damage, Lang said.
Because the shark lived in the aquarium, it was considered captive, so any incident is considered a provoked attack even if it was an accident, Lang said. “The shark did not bite the diver and did not show any aggression,” the report said. “The fish apparently dozed off and just hit him.”
The shark is no longer alive. Pitts is also deceased. No loss is related to the running-in.
The BioPark always has two sand tiger sharks – quite remarkable because their teeth make them look somewhat flattering compared to all the other fish in their tank.
âDifferent species have different teeth,â Lang said, âso we can tell if it’s a sand tiger by their teeth. Their teeth are actually quite sharp.
Lang said the protocols of the dive teams had not changed after the incident. Sharks are fed three times a week in a specific area of ââthe basin. It’s done to give them a qualified answer for the lunch hour. Divers never come into direct contact with sharks. They feed them mackerel with sticks and wear thick gloves so their skin never gets below the surface of the water.
âOne thing about these sharks in particular is that they’re well fed, honestly,â she said. “So they don’t go hunting, looking for opportunities to get something.”
Because they remove smaller, weaker fish from schools, sharks tend to keep fish populations healthy, she said.
Lang argues that sharks’ negative reputation for being aggressive is unfounded. She says the misconception can even lead to inhumane poaching practices, as hunters treat sharks like aggressive beasts.
âBut most of the time, the shark’s primary prey won’t be a human,â Lang said. âThey’re not that bloodthirsty.
The numbers confirm what Lang is saying. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, 129 human-shark interactions were reported in 2020. Globally, 57 unprovoked attacks were reported, down from the five-year average of 80 attacks per year between 2015-2020. Unprovoked attacks occur in a shark’s natural habitat when there is no human effort to induce a shark to attack.
Ten people around the world died from shark attacks in 2020. In comparison, mosquito bites kill a million people each year, according to the World Health Organization.