Sharks – Natural histories of extraordinary species that changed our world

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Sharks – Natural histories of extraordinary species that changed our world

Fear and Loathing

Imagine a hunter that is lithe and sleek, the embodiment of elegance and poise. An animal so supremely in harmony with its environment, so masterful and impressive, that it has inspired poems, novels and music – and works of art that have profoundly challenged our deepest assumptions. A predator whose sheer physicality holds us in thrall, whose image alone can suspend us between terror and admiration.

Recognise it? Maybe a piece of music will help; a piece so famous, so instantly recognisable that you only need to hear the first two notes to know exactly what you are listening to. Those are enough to strike fear into your heart and send a shiver up your spine. And they are enough – for some people at least – to stop them ever swimming in the sea again …

When composer John Williams first played his theme for Jaws to Steven Spielberg, the director assumed that it was some kind of joke. How could such a basic melody possibly be strong enough to underscore the action of a blockbuster movie? Yet it worked. As Williams himself said, the theme grinds away at you, ‘just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable’. The trailer – voiced by Orson Welles – only added to the sense of menace: ‘There is a creature alive today that has survived millions of years of evolution without change, without passion, and without logic. It lives to kill: a mindless, eating machine. It will attack and devour anything. It is as if God created the devil and gave him … jaws.’

It was the summer of 1975, and suddenly even feeding the goldfish seemed dangerous. Jaws sparked mass hysteria, as though this one film had stirred a collective terror buried deep in our primordial psyche. Its villain was not human, but a huge, apparently vengeful, great white shark that, especially in the sequels to the film, appears to be engaged in a vendetta against the holidaymakers at a fictional US east coast resort, Amity Island.

But this is no ordinary shark. After the first, apparently random, attacks, as the film goes on it appears to target individuals, including the crew sent to try to kill it. Eventually the shark is blown to kingdom come. But not before it has taken its toll in both human lives and the collective psyche of the people and community left behind. By the end, the shark’s malevolence has become almost human.

Jaws broke every box-office record going, soon overtaking The Godfather as the highest grossing movie in US history, a record it held until the release of Star Wars. It won three Academy Awards (including Best Original Score), regularly appears in lists of the best movies of all time, and spawned three not very good sequels, two theme-park rides, two musicals and several bestselling computer games.

But in the process, Jaws unwittingly created a negative image of sharks that we can never fully erase. Its lethal, emotionless assassin, a ruthless killing machine apparently dedicated to hunting down defenceless swimmers, has turned the shark into the most feared – and ultimately one of the most hated – animals on the planet.

Jaws was based on a novel written by US author Peter Benchley. It very nearly didn’t appear at all: having had several ideas rejected, Benchley was on the verge of giving up writing for a living. Even when the idea – loosely based on a true-life story of a fisherman catching a great white shark off the coast of Long Island – was finally accepted, the book almost never saw the light of day, as the publisher was unhappy with the tone and demanded rewrites. But eventually, in 1974, it was published, and a year later Steven Spielberg made it into his celebrated film.

Benchley and Spielberg understood the power of anthropomorphism, and both realised that the shark was the perfect villain, a new and original ‘baddie’ just waiting to be exploited. Before Jaws, sharks had occasionally appeared as cinematic villains, such as in the James Bond films Thunderball (1965) and Live and Let Die (1973). But with the portrayal of the great white in Jaws, something changed fundamentally, as John Ó Maoilearca, Professor of Film and Television at Kingston University, explains: ‘Suddenly the idea that you could have a 20- to 30-foot predator that still exists to this day, that will kill you and can eat you whole, seemed to be a strange discovery for the public imagination.’

For many cinemagoers, the most terrifying aspect of the shark in Jaws is not its appearance, but the fact that you don’t actually see it at all until towards the end of the film. It was almost as if the idea of the shark was more powerful – and infinitely more terrifying – than the reality of the creature itself. As Richard Kerridge, nature writer and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, points out, it played magnificently on our primal fear of the unknown; of an attacker lurking out of sight, somewhere in the depths of the oceans, but which has its cold black eyes fixed firmly on us:

The fear of the shark is so intense partly, I think, simply because of the sea. For most of us, the ocean is still an alien place: it’s uncanny, vast and comparatively empty. So when we’re swimming there is always a lurking sense of vulnerability, particularly a fear of what might come up from beneath. That fear of the great mouth coming up from the dark depths below is a very primal one. The deep sea also represents the vastness of the universe in which we are tiny, vulnerable and insignificant.

Ironically, the reason we don’t see the shark for so long in Jaws was not an artistic decision, but a practical and financial one. The model sharks Spielberg had commissioned simply did not look frightening enough, and nor were they easy to manipulate in the open ocean where the film was being shot. With time and money rapidly running out, Spielberg followed the great master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, and decided not to show the shark for the first two-thirds of the film. As he remarked, it’s what you don’t see that is truly terrifying. Turning the shark from a real animal into an unseen menace changed the whole course of the narrative, and added immeasurably to the suspense, as John Ó Maoilearca notes: ‘Jaws is a very effective horror film about a monster you cannot see, and it has been used as a formula ever since – the Ridley Scott film Alien was pitched as “Jaws in Space”.’

But the more we regard sharks as a uniquely terrifying killer, the less we really understand about them. So what exactly are sharks, and why are they so good at what they do?

Sharks have been around for perhaps 400 million years. They long predated dinosaurs, which first appeared about 230 million years ago, let alone mammals (which have been around for some 200 million years), birds (roughly 150 million years) and Homo sapiens (a mere 200,000 years). Their longevity has enabled them to hone their skills as the sea’s top predators, as Hooper, the shark scientist played by Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws, wryly observes: ‘Out there is a perfect engine, an eating machine that is a miracle of evolution – it swims and eats and makes little baby sharks – that’s all.’

The dominance of sharks over such a long period of time also means that the many species of fish that are preyed on by sharks have been shaped by them, as the Canadian environmentalist Paul Watson has indicated. The way they look, behave, swim, camouflage and defend themselves have all been moulded – through natural selection – by being hunted by sharks.

However, by no means are all sharks huge, fearsome predators. Sharks range in size from the massive whale shark – the largest fish in the world, at roughly 10–12 metres long and weighing up to 21.5 tonnes – to the tiny dwarf lanternshark, a kind of dogfish whose maximum length is just over 21 centimetres. And despite their huge size, the whale shark and its cousin the basking shark – the second largest fish on the planet – are filter feeders, eating nothing larger than krill.

All sharks, from the smallest to the largest, share a number of distinctive features. Their teeth are not fixed into their jawbone, as with mammals, but instead are embedded into their gums. This enables them to be constantly replaced during the fish’s life, so that it always has the strongest, sharpest possible set available. Sharks have several rows of replacement teeth ready and waiting, each moving gradually forward on the animal’s jaw until it is needed.

Like skates and rays, but unlike bony fish, sharks’ skeletons are made from cartilage, a flexible material only about half the density of bone, which means that the shark can save energy as it swims. To compensate for any potential weakness, they also have a network of toothlike fibres known as ‘dermal denticles’ on the outside of their skin, which adds strength and helps to reduce water turbulence. Sharks swim using their powerful tails, which produce rapid thrust, enabling them to accelerate swiftly when pursuing their prey. And most famously, they must keep moving: some species – though by no means all – have to swim forward constantly in order to breathe, a behaviour that has embedded itself in popular culture as a metaphor for human progress.

There are almost 500 different species of sharks in the world. Yet only about a dozen of these have ever attacked human beings, and just three – great white, tiger and bull sharks – are responsible for the vast majority of fatal attacks. Of these, the great white – the star of Jaws – is by far the most feared. Great white sharks can reach almost 6.5 metres in length and may weigh as much as 2,000 kilos. They can live up to seventy years – longer than any other fish of their type – and swim at more than 56 kilometres per hour.

Found in many of the world’s warmer oceans, great whites are most frequently seen off the coasts of Australia, the United States, Mexico, Japan and South Africa. Surprisingly, perhaps, they are also regularly spotted in the enclosed and shallow waters of the Mediterranean, and have even been reported off the coasts of Britain – though most, if not all, of these ‘sightings’ are thought to be of smaller species such as the porbeagle shark. And as biologist and patron of the Shark Trust Ian Fergusson points out, when you do come face to face with a great white, you know it:

It’s a quite incredible experience. There is this moment of pure adrenaline, when you look into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, and you see for the first time just that glimpse of white and black, the traditional colour scheme of the great white shark, beneath the boat, and coming up slowly to look at you. And in that moment, you recognise just how tiny and puny Homo sapiens is compared with this incredibly powerful animal – an animal every bit as intelligent as any of the terrestrial apex predators.

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The word ‘shark’ first enters general usage in the middle of the sixteenth century, at the beginning of the age of discovery, when a specimen was apparently brought back to London by Captain John Hawkins from an expedition to West Africa. Before that, sharks were known as ‘sea dogs’ – hence the name ‘dogfish’, which is still used for some smaller species today.

Some linguists believe that the word ‘shark’ derives from the Mayan word xok, which would have been pronounced ‘shok’. However the word ‘sharke’ (meaning a large sea fish) appeared in a letter written by Thomas Beckington, a civil servant (and later Bishop of Bath and Wells) as early as 1442. A more plausible alternative is that ‘shark’ derives from the German schorck, meaning ‘villain’ or ‘scoundrel’.

In the 400 years or so since the word came into common usage, it has spawned a wide range of meanings – mostly negative ones. Thus we have ‘loan sharks’, ‘card sharks’ (a variant, possibly through mishearing, of the phrase ‘card sharp’) or simply ‘shark’ – applied to lawyers, criminals and politicians to denote a particular kind of behaviour, as linguist Alice Deignan explains: ‘“Shark” is used to denote unscrupulous and greedy behaviour in business or occasionally legal dealings, particularly when this involves exploiting vulnerable people.’

The link between sharks and lawyers is a strong one. A US television series about a rapacious lawyer, starring James Woods, was simply named Shark. During the making of Jaws, Spielberg named the ill-fated mechanical shark ‘Bruce’ after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer. Cultural historian Dean Crawford wonders what sharks have done to earn such vilification:

Did they chomp down on our prehistoric ancestors often enough to create an evolutionary memory, a kind of monster profile in the lower cortices of our brains? Or are we exercising that special combination of loathing and fascination that humans reserve for a predator at least as well designed and widely feared in its watery realm as we are on land?

Others, including Richard Kerridge, suggest that our view of these creatures as ruthless killers is largely based on their physical characteristics:

Why they are so hard to like is partly because their faces are so immobile, so still, so lacking in the kind of features that give us meaning, and reassure us. The whole repertoire of the landscape of the face is missing – there is just this smooth, torpedo-like shape, that great mouth with those teeth, and those black, empty eyes. The phrase that comes up all the time in writings about sharks is ‘blank and expressionless’. It’s as if they represent what life might be like if it were ruthless and merciless, and not moral or kind at all. It’s the creature against which most others can be seen as relatively kind.

Adrian Peace, Honorary Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Queensland, also highlights their lack of any behaviour with which we can empathise: ‘Their appearance turns us off – they look mean and menacing, with beady eyes, but most important of all they appear to do nothing else but hunt. At least bears and lions play with their offspring, but you never see sharks do anything but hunt. That explains why we so readily demonise this particular animal.’

This demonisation goes back further than we might assume; at least three-quarters of a century before the release of Jaws. In his 1897 poem ‘The Shark’, Lord Alfred Douglas (friend and lover of Oscar Wilde) cleverly melds the whimsical and menacing to create a vivid portrait of a ruthless, pitiless hunter:

A treacherous monster is the Shark

He never makes the least remark.

And when he sees you on the sand,

He doesn’t seem to want to land.

He watches you take off your clothes,

And not the least excitement shows.

His eyes do not grow bright or roll,

He has astonishing self-control.

He waits till you are quite undressed,

And seems to take no interest.

And when towards the sea you leap,

He looks as if he were asleep.

But when you once get in his range,

His whole demeanour seems to change.

He throws his body right about,

And his true character comes out.

It’s no use crying or appealing,

He seems to lose all decent feeling.

After this warning you will wish

To keep clear of this treacherous fish.

His back is black, his stomach white,

He has a very dangerous bite.

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When it comes to our fascination with sharks, poetry, metaphors and the continued fame of Jaws are only the tip of the iceberg. Sharks also feature in both classic and contemporary art, most famously perhaps in two very different works more than two centuries apart.

The first of these, dating from 1778, is an oil painting by the American portraitist John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark. The original, now in Washington’s National Gallery of Art, depicts a dramatic scene that took place in the harbour at Havana in 1749, when a young cabin boy named Brook Watson was savaged by a shark, losing his leg before being rescued. Watson later rose to become Lord Mayor of London, and commissioned the painting himself, perhaps to showcase his youthful heroism. Although undeniably vivid and powerful, the painting is badly let down by the artist’s portrayal of the fish itself, which looks more like a crazed mutant dolphin than a shark.

No such accusations of inaccuracy can be levelled at the maker of the second piece of art, the bad boy of modern British art, Damien Hirst. That’s because instead of a painting, drawing or sculpture of a shark, his 1991 artwork – entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living – features the entire body of a 4-metre-long tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde inside a huge, steel-framed glass case, its mouth open as if ready to attack.

If Jaws played with the fears generated by not seeing a shark, Hirst’s work did exactly the opposite, creating an image from which we are unable to hide. As he explained, using a phrase from the original Jaws novel, he chose this particular creature to ‘represent a fear’. In doing so, he shook the foundations of the art world to the core, as art expert Giovanni Aloi from the Chicago School of Art observes:

It was a landmark piece for Damien Hirst. Some claim that it is the most important art piece in the twentieth century, and in many respects it changed the audience’s relationship with contemporary art. Standing in front of the cabinets, the point that Hirst wanted to make was that we experience death a fraction of a second before becoming dead …

Just as, presumably, seeing a shark coming towards you would be your last experience of life. The artwork certainly created headlines, with the Sun newspaper commenting on the cost: ‘£50,000 for a fish without chips!’ More seriously, Hirst was criticised for using a real animal in his work, especially because the shark had been killed to order, which many people found morally reprehensible. But as Aloi argues, he was only following the long tradition going back to the classical art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance of using animals – or parts of animals – to create artworks:

Many insects and molluscs were used to produce hues and pigments that could not be produced in any other way. Sometimes it would take 12,000 creatures to make only 1.4 grams of pure dye, so the animal sacrifice involved was absolutely disproportionate. There are many animals disappearing into the beautiful classical paintings by people like Titian and Leonardo that we all love, whereas Damien Hirst has only killed a shark. This is a paradox we need to consider before demonising a work of contemporary art.

Most critics were positive about the artwork, with one noting that: ‘The shark is simultaneously life and death incarnate in a way you don’t quite grasp until you see it, suspended and silent, in its tank.’

But not everyone was quite so impressed. Veteran Australian art expert Robert Hughes suggested that, with such grossly inflated prices being paid for increasingly bizarre works, the international contemporary art market had become ‘a cultural obscenity’:

The term ‘avant-garde’ has lost every last vestige of its meaning in a culture where anything and everything goes … A string of brush marks on a lace collar in a Velásquez can be as radical as the shark that an Australian caught for a couple of Englishmen some years ago and is now murkily disintegrating in its tank on the other side of the Thames. More radical, actually.

The ‘dead shark’, as it became known, had originally been commissioned by multimillionaire art collector Charles Saatchi, who later sold it to a US hedge fund manager for a sum variously reported to be between $8 and $12 million. Unfortunately for the new owner, the shark had not been preserved properly, and soon began to deteriorate. When it was replaced by a completely new specimen in 2006, it raised interesting questions about what constitutes an original artwork.

There is no getting away from the fact that both Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde and the shark in the film Jaws represent sharks as killing machines to the general public. But this is not a universal attitude. In parts of the world where people live their daily lives with sharks, their understanding of these fascinating and complex animals is far more nuanced. Traditional cultures in the Pacific didn’t just see all sharks as killers, as Dennis Kawaharada, Professor of English at the University of Hawaii, explains: ‘Sharks were a source of food, while man-eating sharks were ritually hunted as a rite of passage. But there were also sharks that were worshipped as ancestral gods, who were protectors, so a deceased family member could be transformed into a “guardian shark”, which could then be sent to attack or kill enemies.’

Around the world there are many shape-shifter myths featuring animals that can assume human form. Sharks are no exception. One story tells of a young ‘shark-man’ born to a young woman following her love affair with a ‘shark-god’. Appearing to be a normal human being, he accompanies his fellow villagers into the sea, transforms himself into a shark and seizes his victims. Eventually he is discovered and killed: ‘The story is a lesson about obeying the warnings of the gods, but it also serves as a reminder to those who enter the ocean to be aware of their surroundings.’

There are tales of benevolent sharks too, those that assist people to navigate at sea, or which drive away man-eaters to protect coastal communities. These stories show how other cultures represent sharks in different forms, some dangerous, others altruistic. It is a varied and complicated view that reflects the need of seafaring people to share watery space with the creatures that also live there. Such myths are a product of a deeply spiritual approach to nature, as Dennis Kawaharada suggests: ‘Most ancient people viewed all beings in nature as spiritual entities, which could both harm and help you. I think the concept behind the worship was to harness the benevolent spirits to do good for you, or to control the malevolent ones through worship and rituals and prayers.’

In recent times the coming of modern customs and lifestyles to Hawaii means that many of these traditional beliefs are inevitably fading; yet they still persist among fishing families, a sign of their potency and longevity.

With all the many ways in which we view sharks – both positive and negative – it is hard to get to the truth of the risk they pose to humans. Well-publicised reports of ‘shark attacks’ have led to a behavioural phenomenon that US lawyer, author and social psychologist Cass R. Sunstein calls ‘probability neglect’. This is a form of cognitive bias, fuelled by the modern media, which means that we are unable to judge risks properly. As a result, we tend to grossly overestimate our chances of dying in rare but headline-hitting events such as a plane crash or shark attack, when the odds of such an event occurring are actually vanishingly small.

Statistics on shark attacks going back to the year 1580 produce a total of close to 3,000 shark attacks in 434 years (an average of fewer than seven a year), of which 548 (an average of just over one a year) proved fatal. In recent years, the number of fatalities has risen, with an average of four each year. This is partly because more are being reported, but also perhaps due to changes in shark behaviour caused by a lack of available food and global climate change, both of which are encouraging sharks to venture closer to shore and investigate potential new sources of food, including human swimmers.

Yet other top predators such as lions, leopards and tigers are responsible for far more human deaths, as indeed are domestic dogs, cows and horses. You are more likely to die driving to the beach, being stung by a jellyfish, or from a coconut falling on your head, or as actor-turned-marine-environmentalist Ted Danson put it, ‘You’re more likely to be killed by your toaster than a shark.’ And even when you do venture into the water, in the US you are more than 3,000 times more likely to drown than to die from a shark bite.

Moreover, the majority of shark attacks are not fatal, suggesting that the shark is simply taking an experimental bite to check whether its victim is good to eat. This may not be much comfort if you are the person being experimented on, but it does suggest that our image of sharks as malicious, ruthless man-eaters might perhaps be mistaken. In fact sharks do not really want to eat human beings, because we are not fatty enough for them to digest easily, and don’t have as much energy-giving blubber as seals – which may explain why most great whites only bite humans once. Unfortunately that single bite may still prove fatal, due to blood loss, trauma and shock.

The remote chance of actually being killed by a shark hasn’t stopped some coastal communities from adopting the policy of the mayor of the fictional town, Amity, in Jaws, and killing any big sharks that venture near their beaches. The most recent example of this occurred in Western Australia in 2014, when the state premier Colin Barnett had baited hooks installed to try to catch the sharks. Despite widespread criticism from environmentalists, and suggestions that blood from the hooked fish may attract even more sharks, at the time of writing the policy continues.

The words we employ to talk about sharks are also important to the way we treat them. Adrian Peace has been looking at the language used in shark reports from Australian newspapers:

What strikes me is the uniformity of the terms that are used to describe sharks when they come into contact with people. When the summer comes round here in Australia – ‘shark season’, as it’s called – the terms used by the media are ones like lurking, lingering, prowling and loitering, and they’re always doing these things near ‘innocent’ or ‘unsuspecting’ bathers. The most evocative words of all are menacing, terrorising and stalking – the Mafia menace, and assassins stalk, so this is really a very extreme suggestion of criminal behaviour on the part of sharks.

A 2014 report from the University of Sydney linked the demonising language used against sharks directly to government policy to cull them when an attack occurs. But things may be changing. Adrian Peace believes that a recent change of heart towards sharks may be due to a greater understanding of their behaviour, and a deeper empathy with what it means to be a shark: ‘When sharks attack they are after all doing this in their natural territory. Not only that but they’re also behaving naturally in the sense that they are driven by instinct to attack whatever happens to be in their space. They cannot really be held responsible for their actions.’

This more understanding attitude towards sharks is coming from surprising places, often being promulgated by the survivors of shark attacks, or their relatives, who plead with the authorities not to take revenge in their loved one’s name. Following her lucky escape from being bitten by a shark in 2014, Australian teenager Kirra-Belle Olsson was at pains to point out that this was not the shark’s fault: ‘It’s their home, they’re only doing what they do every day. It’s not like they say, “there’s a person, I’m going to eat it”.’

Elsewhere, notably in South Africa, whole communities tend to have a fairly benevolent attitude towards sharks, not least because the sharks generate a huge amount of revenue in eco-tourism opportunities, either from boat trips or the more controversial pastime of ‘cage diving’. Controversial, because many boat operators are ‘chumming’ – putting fish offal into the water as bait – in order to attract more sharks, a practice that is likely to mean that sharks begin to associate humans with food and which could have dire consequences.

Of course the real problem is not that sharks might eat us, but that a significant number of human beings wish to eat sharks, rapidly hastening their global decline. We kill between 26 and 73 million sharks every year. As a result, with perhaps as few as 3,500 individuals in existence, the great white shark – the infamous ‘star’ of Jaws, and the most feared animal on earth – is now possibly rarer than the tiger. And large sharks are much more difficult than tigers to keep in captivity, making this top marine predator far more vulnerable to extinction.

Millions of sharks fall victim every year to a culinary trend sweeping the Far East. Shark fin soup is a favourite dish across much of Asia, including China, now the world’s biggest economy. It is pretty tasteless but, like tiger parts and rhino horn, it is supposed to increase sexual potency. Unscrupulous and unregulated fishing fleets simply catch huge numbers of sharks, cut off the fins, and then throw the mutilated animals back into the ocean to die a slow and painful death. The figures are staggering: China alone is estimated to harvest 10,000 tonnes of shark fin every year, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of sharks; and this does not take into account the largely unreported illegal trade.

Ironically, one of the leading voices supporting a revision of our attitude towards sharks was the author Peter Benchley. Following the huge success of Jaws, Benchley’s novel went on to sell an estimated 20 million copies, making him a very rich man indeed. But with wealth and success came guilt: that he, perhaps more than anyone, had been unwittingly responsible for our negative attitudes towards sharks, resulting indirectly in the deaths of millions of sharks worldwide.

He resolved to make up for this by supporting shark conservation through articles in newspapers and magazines, in his 2001 book Shark Trouble, and by acting as a spokesman for environmental organisations. He even suggested that he would not have written the novel had he known then what sharks were really like: ‘The shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.’

Perhaps he was too hard on himself. After all, we have always viewed sharks with suspicion and fear and they are never going to be as popular in conservation terms as giant pandas, polar bears, tigers or elephants. But the fear seems to be something we like, if we can feel it at a safe distance. It is a thrill. That is what the appeal of Jaws was all about. As Oliver Crimmen, Senior Curator of Fish at the Natural History Museum recalls, the ‘Jaws effect’ was far from being entirely negative: ‘After the book and the film came out there was a big leap not only in public interest in sharks but also in scientific research. When Peter Benchley visited the museum in the last years of his life I was able to tell him this, and I think it did console him.’

After Benchley’s death in 2006, his widow declared that the global hysteria fostered by Jaws was not his fault, and that ‘he took no more responsibility for the fear of sharks than Mario Puzo [author of The Godfather] took for the Mafia’. Ultimately, Benchley had grown to understand what any naturalist knows: that sharks behave in the way they do because that is the way evolution has programmed them; they are predators – they eat other animals: ‘We provoke a shark every time we enter the water where sharks happen to be, for we forget: the ocean is not our territory – it’s theirs.’

It is possible to see the face of a great white shark as possessing a doglike eagerness rather than malevolent cruelty. Our relationship with sharks is changing, and our desire to conserve them is growing. Whether it will spread sufficiently quickly to save them is another matter, but Ian Fergusson is cautiously optimistic:

We are certainly on the right course. Despite all of the still-ongoing media hyperbole that surrounds sharks, there is a growing swell in public opinion that is becoming more positive towards them. We are slowly getting new generations to start to embrace the idea that this is an animal worth protecting. You will hear innumerable scientific debates as to why they should be saved, but let me simplify it for you: sharks are cool fish to have in the ocean, and wouldn’t it be a boring place without them?

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A fallen blossom

Returning to the bough, I thought –

But no, a butterfly

Arakida Moritake

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