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See through their stratagems - R.H. Joseph

What could be more despicable than striking unnecessary fear into the hearts of the public for the sole purpose of furthering your own ends?

No, I'm not talking about Tom Ridge's recent press conference to report something might happen somewhere but because there was nothing substantive the threat level would remain unchanged.

I'm sure it was pure coincidence the conference and the hubbub it engendered drew attention away from John Kerry's selection of a vice presidential candidate.

Likewise, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Ridge decides the threat level must be raised either the day before, the very day, or the day after the 9/11 commission issues its final scathing denunciation of the Bush administration's conduct beginning with the period prior to Sept. 11 and including its unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation.

These real and conjectural events may indeed be fishy but I have smaller fish to fry.

Surfing the tube the other day I came upon some garbage asserting as soon as humans jump into the ocean they are being stalked by sharks.

It's shark week on the station but this doesn't mean we'll get to understand and appreciate sharks more fully from a behavioral and aesthetic perspective. Knowledge doesn't sell, fear sells.

To make a quick buck this contemptible station is undermining people's love of the ocean with frightening lies.

My wife and I have been scuba divers for 25 years and never, not once, have we ever met any divers who have been threatened by a shark.

More importantly, divers are thrilled to encounter sharks for the occasions are rare and the creatures beautiful. My wife rarely goes diving without her camera (Nikonos V) and despite the hundreds and hundreds of dives she's enjoyed we only have a few shark pictures on our walls.

Of these, most are of nurse sharks snoozing in grottoes. The really cool sharks, reef sharks like black tips, white tips and lemon sharks, never let her get close enough to take a good picture.

Once, in Palau (12 hours south of Hawaii), I came upon a half dozen sharks (10 to 12 footers) motionless on the top of a wall facing into a pronounced current. I held my breath, moved as slowly as possible and came up from behind.

Zoom! They disappeared into the deep blue. Maybe I got within 30 feet. Sharks don't like us and keep their distance.

Of my wife's dazzling photographs of corals, sponges, giant clams, and bizarre and glorious fish, it is the shark pictures that prove most riveting. If things fall into place our next trip will be to the Galapagos and with luck she'll get pictures of schooling hammerheads. A diver's dream!

This brings up a diver's nightmare and the second unconscionable exploitation of public fear.

Movie theaters are showing coming attractions of a film focused solely upon two divers left at sea by a dive boat. In the trailer, these unfortunates spend a lot of time screaming, their faces contorted by their calamitous circumstance.

Some years ago Baby and I were diving off the isolated coast of Xcalak at the bottom of the Yucatan. Our adventure concluded, we headed north and did a few dives in Cozumel.

The tourism and dive business in Cozumel thrives and there are many dive operations catering to an abundance of divers. No doubt we're just a blur to the dive operators and they tend to be somewhat lax in their responsibility.

Anyhow, we were doing a night dive when one of our flashlights ceased to function and we spent more time paying attention to each other than to where we were.

Lo and behold, when we surfaced we were alone, at sea, at night. No boat.

Did we start screaming? Were our faces distorted by overwhelming fear?

No, we're grownups. Like the divers in the film we were wearing buoyancy compensators, devices that keep you afloat with your head out of water, so our collective consciousness could focus on the problem at hand.

Suffice it to say we got ourselves out of a bad situation without tears and histrionics.

I understand that without the exaggerated emotionalism there would be no movie but should there be a movie if the money made comes at so great a price?

There are few accessible spots on earth as magnificent and awesome as the ocean. There are few experiences more astonishing than slowly examining an unsullied reef.

To imply that the ocean is a death trap full of lurking sharks for the sole purpose of making a buck is criminal. The public should turn their backs on these nefarious enterprises.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.