CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (USA TODAY) -- Mark Grainger, owner of Florida Air Tours, hears the same request when he prepares to take clients on bi-plane or helicopter rides over the region's beaches: "Take us to where we can see all of those sharks."
If only he could.
Grainger hates to dismiss any popular myths that from the air one can see a dark ribbon of sharks a few hundred feet off our beaches. No question the sharks are out there but in nearly four years of flying customers over the area, shark sightings have been rare. Which is too bad, he said, because people really want to see sharks.
"We advertise that we show wildlife on our tours," Grainger said. "But I don't advertise sharks, only because it's something I can't absolutely guarantee someone can see. I can guarantee they're going to see a manatee, or dolphin. If there were more sharks to see, that would be an interesting angle."
An interesting angle indeed, but probably one that Brevard County officials aren't looking to exploit, especially when tourism is a $2.8 billion annual industry and beaches are one of the major attractions.
While sharks bites, and shark sightings, are acknowledged here they're not really ranked in severity the same way as, say, rip currents are. And there's no question a consistent string of shark bite stories going global would have a negative impact on tourism, much like what happened in Hawaii last year.
"It could have an impact not only if there's a lot of them at once, but especially if the incidents repeat and increase in frequency over time," said Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management and author of "Tourism, Security, and Safety."
"That would have a serious impact," he said. "However, so long as shark bites are rare and they do not cause a series of serious injuries, they are unlikely to have much impact."
Some communities want to turn shark sighting into a tourism industry, much like whale watching in some parts of the world. That's not so easy, though.
Using bait, or "chum" to attract sharks to a particular spot for tourism isn't allowed, and sightings are too inconsistent.
So far, Brevard can count five sharks bites this year — the latest this past Saturday — and there's no indication that beachgoers are avoiding the water. None of the bites were fatal, and the last time Brevard had a fatal shark bite was in 1934.
Jim Ridenour, a member of the Brevard County Tourism Development Council, said that during his 10 years on the council, sharks have rarely surfaced as an issue.
"We have not had the issue here that they have had in Daytona, where there are shark bites almost every week," said Ridenour, who also is general manager at the Residence Inn Melbourne and the Courtyard by Marriott Melbourne West.
"I tend to think that rip currents are more of a concern than sharks are."
Ridenour said that as long as shark encounters are rare, there is no need to alarm tourists by putting up warning signs on the beaches.
"My worry is that if you saw a sign on the beach saying here's how you ward off a shark attack, that would scare the living daylights out of you," he said. "So let's not do that."
And then there are those like Laurilee Thompson, owner of the popular Dixie Crossroads Restaurant in Titusville, who said it might not be a bad idea to explain to people — in a low-key, matter-of-fact way — how best to prevent a shark encounter, much like there are warnings about wearing sunscreen to prevent skin cancer.
"I mean, I don't see where shark bites are going to affect tourism," said Thompson, a vice chairwoman of the TDC. "A lot of people get bit in Volusia County, and it's still a tourism destination. But I think there are more sharks out there than people realize."
Thompson said that beachgoers could protect themselves from sharks by taking simple steps — like removing shiny jewelry and avoiding areas with baitfish — and that public officials had an ethical obligation to dispense this advice.
Casey Gilbert, whose Sea View Motel in Melbourne Beach, offers stunning views of the Atlantic, said she has noticed over the years that, among tourists, there are two schools of thought when it comes to sharks.
Some are intrigued and venture out of their way to see one, she said.
Then there are those who prefer to stay on the beach, and who are very alarmed when they hear about sharks. She said that these folks tend to come from landlocked places and have limited swimming experience.
"We always fear things that we don't understand and don't know," she said. "That's why education is the key."