Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Be aware of dangers in ocean settings

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IT'S always interesting to get a series of questions that make me think about the response, based on both my own thoughts and whatever research I can dig up. This week's questions are of that nature.

QUESTION: I have always enjoyed swimming in the ocean when I travel, far more than in the limiting scope of a resort pool. Lately, I have been hearing more and more about shark attacks, dangerous jellyfish and undertows that have taken people's lives.

Is the frequency of these events on the rise?

ANSWER: I doubt that, in total, there are any more occurrences of these events than in the past.

The reporting of them has become decidedly better. This becomes especially obvious if one event becomes connected to another in the same area within a reasonable close time span.

Nevertheless, you need to be aware in advance of dangers that may pose threats to your safety in any exotic location you may be visiting. Most countries have areas of saltwater or freshwater bodies that prudence would suggest not swimming in at all.

While most major tourist beaches will have warning flags recommending swimmers adhere to, not all countries are as responsible. And shark attacks, for example, can occur on normally safe beaches without warning.

Along the beaches of Cuba you can swim into a stinging jellyfish, they refer to as a Portuguese man-o-war. While real Portuguese man-o-wars are much more dangerous, these jellyfish, with their balloon-like appearance, will leave you in considerable pain.

The real Portuguese man-o-war is actually from the Physaliidae family and, while occasionally found as far north as our own Bay of Fundy, is most commonly seen floating over the tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Around the beaches of Thailand, more lethal box jellies and irukandji jellyfish have been known to cause death.

As you travel deep into the southern United States, finding crocodiles and alligators near bodies of water is common. They look docile taking in the rays of the sun.

However, they are still creatures of the wild, and why people want to get as close as they can, as I, too, have foolishly done in the past, to take the perfect photo, astounds me. These water guys can run, likely faster than you can if they really think you would make a fine meal.

Australia has been known for its frequency of reported shark attacks over recent years. It is a country that takes the threat of tourist attack seriously and does a good job of monitoring the waters where tourists gather.

Nevertheless, there are annual reports of people being killed or mangled.

The bottom line is swimming in most oceans is safe, and running into a threat is a rare occurrence. But they do happen and you need to know the history of the waters you may want to swim in and act appropriately for your own safety.

QUESTION: We are heading over to Europe in June, followed by two weeks in Sweden. Our biggest conundrum is whether to carry our passports on our person, with a copy left in our suitcase in the hotel, or vice versa. We have spoken to several people and all have a different opinion.

ANSWER: The decision on this is personal, and I don't know if there is a better option of the two you mentioned.

From a personal perspective, I always prefer to leave my passport in the hotel room safe. I recognize it is not the most difficult of tasks for a professional thief to break into a safe or even remove it from a wall, but time and noise are involved. I think unless thieves know you have serious valuables locked in it, the risk may be too great to attempt.

However, my logic does not necessarily hold true.

On the other hand, if you carry the passport on your person, it is vitally important it is kept out of sight in a waist wallets or other protective gear worn under your outer garments.

While I am told the new Canadian passports will not be easy to scan by thieves, you should also make sure you get a waist wallet or similar unit with radio frequency identification (RFID)protection.

The price of these is not much different than those without the RFID protection. With them, credit cards or other radio frequency documents will be safer.

There has been significant publicity around this issue over the last months and it is a continuing source of concern for travellers in questions to me.

Even with the publicity, few understand why the issue has suddenly seemed to have jumped to the forefront.

Scanning devices can pick up all the information contained in these credit cards, to my limited technical understanding, because of the electromagnetic field built into the cards for the purpose of identification. The chip is tiny and occupies a small portion of your credit card. Nevertheless, sophisticated scanning devices can read the information contained therein from a distance.

From my observation, it appears every brand of wallet and handbag is steadily introducing RDIF options.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 D2

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