The water polo season ended this weekend, so I’ve committed to getting back into running shape this winter. I teach at a school nestled in the cozy woods of a small and privileged Northern California town, and so there are tons of terrific trails to trot when I’m up to it. As I started my run today, I saw signs all over the place reminding me of what a colleague had said that day: our town is under a Mountain Lion alert. As in, there have been mountain lions spotted recently, as the Palo Alto online reported.
So for the remainder of my run, of course I was spooked by the thought of mountain lions, and then I got to really thinking about it. Not only do I run in the woods of Northern California, I also surf in its chilly, shark-infested waters. So here’s the question: which would be worse, to get attacked by a shark, or a mountain lion?
I had about 5 miles of a slow, getting-back-in-shape run to think this one through, and I’ve concluded I’d rather be attacked by a shark. Here’s why:
1. It’s hard to find stats that verify this, but shark attacks are not commonly fatal. Granted, there are sites that track shark attacks, but am I really going to read through all of this to find a fatality percentage? Sharks don’t like how humans taste, so they bite and then spit us out. Mountain lion attacks, on the other hand, have a relatively high fatality rate, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% based on this chart I found.
2. Due to movies like “Blue Crush” and Kelly Slater’s steely blue eyes, surfing is incredibly popular worldwide. We’re experiencing a surf-industrial complex. Therefore, getting waves by yourself is quite difficult and rare. I surf at Ocean Beach in San Francisco pretty regularly, and needless to say I’m not the only person who is a regular. Most people consider this a bummer. They, however, are overlooking the significant advantage associated with shark attacks. Running on trails, on the other hand, is usually a solo activity, or maybe something done with another friend at most. Therefore, if you encounter a shark in the water, it’ll have like hundreds of dangling legs to choose from to chomp on. However, if you’re out in the wild running, then you have to push your friend into the mountain lion to save yourself. I am not against doing that, but I probably wouldn’t like it.
3. You run in nature to get away from roads and people. Also, consequently, away from help. I mentally can picture dragging my mountain-lion-attacked-self miles down a trail to a nearby house to call for help. However, in the water, it’s a quick paddle in to lay prostrate in the sand while a busty lifeguard (none actually exist in real life) helps you.
4. Everyone knows it’s possible to fight off a mountain lion. Few people will make the same claim about sharks. Sure, you’re supposed to punch its nose, maybe stab it in the eyes with your fingers or karate chop the gills, but there’s not much verification that any of this crap works. So basically, you’ve got a street cred as a victim to protect. If you get mauled by a mountain lion, people will probably think “what an idiot, running alone, didn’t know how to defend himself, the jackass gets what he deserves.” I think the shark attack will definitely garner more sympathy. People will want to see the scar and will feel bad for you.
5. Adding to the last point, the Great Whites that live up here are huge. 10-12 feet is standard. That is so much bigger than a mountain lion. So again, attack overall makes you look more badass.
6. I live according to a “Sun’s Out, Gun’s Out” mentality. In sunny California, I’m therefore commonly prancing through the woods in just running shorts. In the water, I’m protected by a rubbery wetsuit. Extra protection is always key. I’d wear a shirt if the protection against mountain lions actually outweighed the benefit of avoiding a farmerss tan, but obviously it doesn’t. Farmers’ tans are ridiculous.
So there we have it folks. It’s pretty clearly better to get attacked by a shark than a mountain lion, so next time you have the opportunity for either, choose the shark.