Eye of the Tyler: Shark on Isle of Palms may have seen my dog as ‘sandwich’

  • Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Charlie, reporter and columnist Tyler Heffernan’s miniature dachshund, got a little too close for comfort to an approaching shark on the Isle of Palms last week. STAFF PHOTO BY TYLER HEFFERNAN

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People describe dogs in a lot of different ways. Our four-legged friends are called cute, energetic or playful.

My miniature dachshund was almost a sandwich.

A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and I took Charlie – on his first birthday – to the Isle of Palms beach. The lil’ guy loves the water. He jumped in and out of the gullies and taunted the breaking waves.

As we were coming out of the water toward our towels, I noticed an unwanted visitor to my right in the knee-deep waves. About six feet away and closing in was about a four-foot shark. Charlie was to my left and my lady friend was on the other side of him.

“Babe, shark,” I said. “Get him out now.”

She yanked him away and onto the sand. I had never seen a shark so close before, so I just stopped and stared. It didn’t seem interested in me, and besides, I was only a couple jumps from being on land. I’m no scientist, but it was trying to get a closer look – and perhaps taste – of my pooch.

Dr. Gavin Naylor, a professor in the marine biology graduate program at College of Charleston, said sharks don’t normally approach dogs any differently than humans. It’s rare for an attack to happen unless provoked.

Without knowing the type of shark, it’s impossible to know its behavior and natural demeanor, and therefore, its intentions.

“When people say the word ‘shark,’ it’s like saying ‘animal.’ There are incredibly different types of sharks,” Naylor said. “Some are very timid; some are bolder.”

Its small size probably indicates that it was young. “If it was a juvenile shark, they’re just like juvenile-any animals,” he said. “They’re experimental. They do things sometimes not in their best interest.”

You got that right. If that shark would have swam aggressively toward Charlie, I would’ve performed the coolest set of wrestling moves anyone on the Isle of Palms had ever seen. Ya know, full Nelson, arm bar and maybe even bringing out a beach chair to finish the shark off.

Those are all great tips, right, Doc?

“You should get out as quick as possible,” he advised. “Whenever I see a shark, I calmly and deliberately move out of the water.”

Naylor said in cases where the water is deeper and an escape isn’t as accessible, it’s important to face the shark so there are no surprises. If I was about to be thrown around like a rag doll in the teeth of a shark, would I want to see it coming?

Naylor said that being aggressive toward an approaching shark isn’t a great idea. “If it’s bigger than you, I’d leave it alone,” he said. If it becomes a little too curious and you think an attack is imminent, he suggested punching it in the gills.

That’s what I’m talkin’ about. A little jab, maybe a cross and an upper cut. Say g’night, sharkie.

Okay, enough of the cockiness. I’d be calling out for my mama if a shark started prodding me and I had no escape route.

Sometimes a punch will startle the shark and cause it to swim away, Naylor said. “But if they’re hungry, that could have the very opposite consequence.”

Back to my dog, though. If this shark, which could have been a bull shark, Sandbar shark or Atlantic sharpnose, had been stalking us, what was it seeing in my lil’ buddy?

Charlie is a weiner dog, I explained to Naylor.

“I could imagine that looks like a sandwich,” he said laughing.

“Wait, did you just say my dog might have looked like a sandwich to that shark?” I asked.

“Well, I certainly can’t get inside the head of that shark,” Naylor said, still chuckling and having a grand ol’ time. “Tiny legs and a big, fat body. It flails around. It looks like an injured fish.”

He paused. I paused also, because I had just experienced the most entertaining interview of the month.

“No offense, though,” Naylor added.

“Oh, none at all,” I responded. “It sounds like you have some experience with dachshunds.”

“I think they’re cute,” he said. “They’re funny dogs.”

Well, at least “cute” and “funny” are better descriptions than “sandwich.”

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