Opened a coconut with a machete today and, yes, I’m typing with all my fingers

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Did you know more people die from falling coconuts (and falling out of coconut trees)  than from shark attacks every year? Apparently that is a false statement. So, rest easy Belize!
Did you know more people die from falling coconuts (and falling out of coconut trees) than from shark attacks every year? Not true! Apparently this false statement is resurrected every time a shark attacks a human. So, rest easy Belize, knowing we have both a lot of coconut trees and sharks and that we’re relatively safe from both.

The mere fact that you are reading this is proof that I can, and did, successfully open my first coconut.

With a machete.

I bought the machete a few weeks ago. I suppose I could have bought a mahogany club, as some of my neighbors have. But a machete is dual purpose: self-defense and opening coconuts.

Personally I hope to only ever use it opening coconuts. Lots and lots of coconuts.

But not without a bit of trepidation.  Don’t think I haven’t noticed the number of locals with missing digits. Chances are, if you ask, a machete was involved. And sometimes, maybe, some rum.

Coconuts are as plentiful here as sharks on the barrier reef.

Which is why this paragraph in a recent Los Angeles Times news story caught my attention:

“Still, shark attacks remain extremely rare: Someone is more likely to die by being struck by a falling coconut than being attacked by a shark, Collier said.”

That’s Ralph Collier, described in the article as president of the Shark Research Institute. The story is about a recent great white shark attack along the coast of California which resulted in three beaches being closed for a period of time. As a Californian, I’m sure the beach closings caused more angst than the non-fatal shark attack.

But Collier’s statement sounds a little — What is the technical term? — screwy.

Here on Ambergris Caye in Belize, the one thing we have more of than missing fingers is coconut trees. And out on the Barrier Reef, one thing we have more of than coconut trees is sharks.

As I type this — with all 10 of my digits –I am looking out toward the barrier reef through a cluster of swaying coconut palms, laden with the deadly killer coconuts. I often walk or bicycle under those lethal palms, and hundreds of others in the course of a week. And our opportunities to snorkel on the Barrier Reef, and someday soon, scuba dive, are increasing all the time.

And yet, in our brief time here on Ambergris Caye — and this is merely an anecdotal observation, not a scientific one — I have heard of numerous deaths from 9 mm pistol fire, but not of a single fatal shark attack nor death by coconut.

So, let’s cut to the chase. Shall we?

Collier’s statement is idiotic. And it is reprehensible that the Los Angeles Times printed it without vetting.

But you think I’m upset? Read this:

“We publish this here because we couldn’t stand the constant garbage statistics quoted on web sites and newspapers . . . For years scientists and journalists have been saying you have a better chance of getting killed by a coconut falling on your head than a shark. (It’s actually reverse).”

Source? The Shark Research Institute.

(OK, syntactically, the chances of a shark falling on your head are probably even more rare than one attacking you with, say,  a coconut . . . Although “Sharknado” was pretty funny, for a while, and I’m horrified to think they came up with a sequel.)

This coconut vs. shark screed is actually found on the website of the Australian branch of The Shark Research Institute. Further, on the main SRI website, Ralph Collier is listed not as president but as director of the Global Shark Attack File, which has been attempting to gain a data-based perspective on such attacks since 1990.

The Australian site says the oft-quoted figure of 150 deaths-by-coconut annually is a wild extrapolation of the unlikely probability that everyone in the world lives in proximity to coconut-bearing trees . . . if not directly under them. Including you, Minnesotans.

And the number might even include  people who fall out of coconut trees. Thinking about you, Coconut Leo. I mean who hasn’t clenched their jaws outside the local beach bars as Leo swings backward with only his legs in a vise-like grip at the top of a coconut palm for cheering tourists?

The Australian site also notes that the claim that the majority of shark attack victims are wearing black wetsuits may very well be true because “99.9% of all wetsuits sold are mostly black.” Think about it.

More fun facts, these from National Geographic:

  • Over the last half-century, there have been more unprovoked shark attacks in Florida (27 out of a total 139) between 2-3 p.m. than any other time of the day. (Insert your own snarky comment about Florida here.)
  • You have a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime. Even more unlikely, I bet, if you live out your life in Nebraska.

Why the LA Times didn’t go with the old standby — lightning — I’ll never know. Everybody has a better chance of being struck by lightning than experiencing most everything else in life that scares us.

According to National Geographic,”the U.S. averages just 19 shark attacks each year and one shark-attack fatality every two years. Meanwhile, in the coastal U.S. states alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 37 people each year.”

What was the point of all this?

Ah, yes.

I opened my first coconut today — one picked up by Rose recently as we bicycled up the coast on a Sunday afternoon. I opened it with a machete and didn’t hurt myself.

Now the chances of that happening are . . . .







5 thoughts on “Opened a coconut with a machete today and, yes, I’m typing with all my fingers

    Karen Kelly said:
    October 10, 2014 at 4:53 am

    So much fun to read your blogs. Hopefully…..a shark won’t fall on my head.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 10, 2014 at 8:01 am

      No falling sharks on my watch, while you visit us Karen! However, your visit includes Halloween so the prospect of falling-down-drunk sharks is better than normal…..


    Greg Gross said:
    October 13, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Congratulations on performing machete surgery on the coconut, without performing unscheduled surgery on yourself! Your next step, climb coconut trees like that guy, who clearly is not bothered by such trifles as gravity.


    Lorenzo Gonzalez said:
    November 2, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Owning a machete – how very Belizean of you.


    peppercarpenter said:
    July 2, 2017 at 10:38 am


    I found that article a couple of days ago, and thought you may be really interested in such info, just read it here

    Good wishes, peppercarpenter


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