Sharks eat at sunrise while hotel guests gaze. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale)

In the Steven Spielberg-directed, big screen version of Peter Benchley’s beach book “Jaws,” the Amityville town council fretted over the tourists fearing sharks and not showing up to spend money in their hotels. But the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale actually promoted shark awareness recently and drew even more tourists to the premier luxury beach property.

Surf’s up for a swim at the pool or beach. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale)

During summer’s annual Discovery Channel “Shark Week,” guests and locals enjoyed a “dive-in” viewing party of the 29,000 square foot, seventh-floor infinity pool deck where they, lounging in the water on shark pool floats seemingly suspended over the Atlantic, watched sneak-peek debut episodes of new Shark Week episodes with the toothy finned creatures chomping away. Now that’s enough to make the hair on the back of your bathing suit stand up!

Those brave guests munched on “shark bites” and drank themed cocktails to calm their nerves.

Celebrate Sharks at Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale? 

Why would a big name, beachfront luxury resort remind guests the ocean has sharks in it?

Like an ocean liner: Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale)

“Conservation,” said Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale’s creative General Manager Greg Cook. “Being located in South Florida, shark conservation has always been an important cause. We’re honored to be the hotel partner for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week this year to conjointly raise awareness for these incredible creatures.”

The Ritz-Carlton put its money where the shark’s mouth is, too. They donated proceeds from special Shark Week activities, including a Hot Sand Pedicure and other spa treatments, to the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the University of Miami.

“The funds are helpful as is increasing awareness for sharks. It’s very critical at this time,” said Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, founder of the program who has appeared on Discovery Channel as a Shark Week expert. “Although sharks are often seen in a negative light we should actually be concerned for sharks. Their many populations globally, including here off of Florida, are experiencing declines primarily due to overfishing. But they certainly also have new threats like those associated with climate change.”

Hammerschlag on Hammerheads 

Hotel guests gawk with awe and fear at “Laudy,” the Ritz-Carlton’s new hammerhead shark replica.

“Hammerhead sharks are not tame but they are magnificent to be in the water with,” said Hammerschlag. “They are quite fragile when it comes to fishing for them. People target them because they look fearsome but when fishermen who are practicing ‘catch and release’ techniques often find once they are caught they succumb to death just from being caught. They get exhausted very easily.”

Nicer-named Lemon sharks and Nurse sharks sound more harmless than “Hammerheads.” But what about the toothy Tiger sharks? And the pearly whites of the deadly Great Whites? And God forbid a running of the Bull sharks?

Shark Week celebrates and studies sharks. (Courtesy of University of Miami Shark Research)

“Remember sharks are a very important part of having healthy oceans.   Sharks help maintain the balance of the seas. They play an important role as predators. The oceans without sharks would be a much scarier place,” he insisted.

Sharks feed at dawn and dusk

Diners could hardly be blamed for sitting in the Ritz-Carlton’s oceanfront Burlock Coast Seafare & Spirits restaurant at twilight and think about sharks feeding out at sea simultaneously. The movie “Jaws” and many others since were originally blamed for creating an unwarranted dread for sharks. While Discovery Channel’s shark footage can be fearsome, Hammerschlag is one of the experts who presents some predator perspective.

Studying sharks to understand more and fear less. (Courtesy of University of Miami Shark Research)

“I would say that it’s important to know that sharks are generally very fearful of people and keep their distance. As a shark researcher I actually try to do my best to bring sharks close to me when I am out there on the ocean and I can tell you its extremely hard. They just want to generally stay as far away as they can from people,” he assured.

Sharks Seen on the Scene 

Then why do we seem to see more news coverage about a seemingly increasing number of shark bites and attacks?

“Everyone now has a cell phone at any given moment in time. Everyone is a walking, talking reporter and they can snap a photo or video and so quickly share that via social media. So images and information is passed quicker and more broadly,” he explained. “It’s unbelievable what drones with cameras have been able to do. Sharks cruise along the beaches and if you’re in the water or on the shore it’s difficult to see them. But with drone footage you can actually see and follow them as they pass by.”

Just More Coverage? Or…More Bites? 

But can you throw me a life ring here, doctor? I’m trying to put a toe in the water. Are there, in fact, an increasing number of shark attacks in places beyond the Barrier Reef?

“We are having more people in the water…so the total number of shark bites is higher; but the actual per-person risk is lower. We’re just throwing so many more people in the water that you are seeing, overall, a higher number of encounters with sharks which is leading to an overall higher number of bites…but not significantly,” Hammerschlag revealed. Then he gave his bottom line. “Go out and enjoy the water. Don’t think about sharks as a concern. They want to be away from people, so don’t be fearful of them. They really are not out to get people. Enjoy the ocean.”

Can we enjoy it with just a little more confidence with some advice? For instance, would a certain type of bathing suit be less attractive to sharks?

“I don’t think it matters that much. I would avoid high contrasting colors maybe. Sharks can’t see in color. They see in monochromatic blue hues like the color of the ocean, but they can see contrast well under low light conditions,” said Hammerschlag with a shrug.

Should we remove shiny jewelry before diving into the surf?

“I don’t take mine off. But a flash of light on jewelry might attract a shark,” he said.

Burlock Coast Seafare and Spirits…with a view. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale)

Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale is a sophisticated property with a true sense of place: relaxed and chic. Its 24 stories of tiered glass walls and curves sweep like a luxury liner holding 192 guest rooms and suites. There is lots of light-filled meeting space and a water-view fitness center for the busybodies.

Michael Patrick Shiels is a radio host and travel blogger. Follow his adventures at Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected] 
Michael Patrick Shiels

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