Monday, September 13, 2010

Shark Love

A group of shark attack victims have since become the animal's newest, most passionate advocate. There are about nine of them, all ocean enthousiasts, who are familiar with the dangers of open water, but embrace them while surfing and diving. These victims claim that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, but that protecting sharks from humans is more important than protecting humans from sharks.

It's a fair point. Shark attacks are rare, but when they do happen, they're spectacular. They reside in people's minds mostly due to the negative media images of Jaws and other predators, prowling around in the water to the sound of philharmonic orchestras. And yet, sharks are the species on the decline and it's the humans that are driving them down.

The lucrative market in Asia for shark fin soup is one of the most shameless demonstrations of a wasteful and abusive human population, who cut off the fins of the shark and throw the living body back in the water to die. The fins are flavourless. The flavour in the shark fin soup is usually a chicken broth and the fins are added for texture, but their most important function is one of the oldest practices in human history: showing off.

The symbolic nature of the shark fin is the fact that it is a great predator, taken down by humans. As such, it is rare, valuable and expensive. It's not valued for what it actually is and it serves no purpose in the soup. Just like ivory taken from elephant tusks, all it does is fulfill a vain purpose and feed the appetite for luxury of a selecct, arrogant, unscrupulous people. There's no need for it.

The fact that this group of people who love the ocean are enlightened enough to overcome the trauma of an attack to come back and advocate for their attackers is incredible. The shark is an endangered species. It's one of the oldest creatures in the ocean and has evolved dramatically over millions of years. It maintains a certain balance within the ecosystem and helps to preserve the ocean.

It is also greatly misunderstood. Sharks have often been shown as dumb, bloodthirsty animals. A drop of blood will not cause a shark frenzy in the ocean, regardless of what you see on TV. They're also incredibly intelligent and have well-developed instincts that allow them to communicate and remember things. They're also not as solitary as people think. Some species of sharks travel in packs in order to find feeding grounds.

Sharks are also incredibly afraid of people. They don't tend to linger in areas where people are, and that's mostly because of the danger that we pose with our boats, nets and hooks. The one in a million shark encounter is about as rare as getting hit by lightning or winning the lottery. And most shark encounters are not attacks- they're merely that, encounters, where the shark swims around, takes a tiny nibble to see if we're fit, or, in some cases, the sharks do mistake humans for fish. We're definitely not as tasty as fish, though, and human meat can be very gamey.

You ever wonder why Shark Week is every second week on the Discovery Channel? It's because they fascinate us and scare us. It's because there's something intriguing about this underwater predator that we so rarely get a chance to see and whose power is so awesome compared with our flimsy human selves. And because the mysteries of the ocean make us dream about the possibilities of hidden worlds and sea kingdoms and what it would feel like to be the king of the Deep Blue Sea.

We should be doing more to protect this species. Learning about it is a first step, so that we can shed our ignorance. Advocating is even better, particularly from those who have the severed limbs to show for it. It takes a really special kind of person to advocate for their aggressor and to defend them.

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