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Eric Douglas: Be careful at the beach -- but use your head online, too

Now that summer has finally arrived, I’m praying it will finally dry out and let us enjoy some outdoor time.

As the vacation season kicks into high gear and loads and loads of people head to the beach to relax for a week, it’s time for my annual reminder that the animals that live in the ocean aren’t evil and we don’t need to fear them.

What kicked this off for me this morning was a “news story” about a “giant octopus” “attacking” a scuba diver. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

The animal in question might’ve been a Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), but it appeared to be about 25 or 30 pounds, which is typical for the species. It did swim up and wrap its tentacles around the diver for about 10 seconds, but the man was never disturbed and wasn’t alarmed.

My guess would be the octopus is used to divers in the area and often visits with them. Seriously. Octopi are the most intelligent invertebrates in the ocean.

My real disappointment to the video was that the diver literally ignored the octopus. I would’ve played with it.

This example allows me to talk about two of my favorite topics: the ocean and misleading stories online.

The ocean first. Yes, there have been shark attacks this summer, and you do need to be watchful when you are in the ocean. (I am very sorry for the people injured but admire the resolve I’ve seen from them.)

Here’s the thing, though. Sharks live in the ocean. My wife can attest that whenever I hear the phrase “shark-infested waters,” I yell at the television. They live there. They aren’t infesting anything. If anything, humans are an infestation at the beach in the summer. Like termites.

You wouldn’t run across the African savanna in “lion-infested grasslands,” wearing a lucky ham around your neck and expect to come out OK.

And now the fake news story. Many websites intentionally write their copy in ways to entice clicks. That’s how they make their money. They want you to get excited about a story and visit the website, even if it is just for a few seconds.

When you see headlines that are over-the-top or outlandish, it is what is known as click-bait. This news organization (that many of you view as a credible source) intentionally used inflammatory language that was based on nothing in the actual video.

The problem is, a lot of people won’t click on the link, but will just see the headline “Terrifying video shows diver fighting off giant octopus.”

Now, they are even more unreasonably afraid of the ocean. It’s silly, but it is also damaging.

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit www.booksbyeric.com or contact him at Eric@booksbyeric.com

Funerals for Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bly, Betty - 4 p.m., We're Family Park, Exchange.

McBrayer, Doris - 1 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Teays Valley.

Morrison, Jo - 2 p.m., Elizabeth Memorial United Methodist Church, Charleston.

Morrison, Sheldon - 2 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Nichols, Anna - 2 p.m., New Hope Baptist Church, Morris.