Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Problem with "Sharks"

Try defining "Sharks".

I've looked up the various definitions in Google and inevitably, there's talk of "large and voracious" and "sometimes attack humans". And then, there's the human "Sharks" that are "ruthless, greedy and dishonest".
Talk about animals having a bad reputation!

The correct definition would instead list these elements: marine, fish, cartilaginous skeleton, 5-7 mostly lateral gill slits, tough skin covered in denticles, carnivorous. All rather vague as in the definitions for "Birds" and "Mammals" (no mention of "attack humans" here - and yet they do!) - and for good reason, as a Whale Shark, a Cookiecutter Shark and a Great White are as different as, say, an Elephant, a Shrew and an Orca!
To say, "Sharks do this and behave like that" is just dead wrong - and I for one am guilty of having fallen in that trap all-too-often!

Which brings me straight back to the Shark operator controversy in Hawaii.
Yes, Hawaii regularly experiences "Shark" attacks - but those are overwhelmingly attributed to one species, i.e. Tiger Sharks, large predatory Sharks that target big prey (as in Turtles) close to the coast. That's where most aquatic recreationists do their thing and that's where from time to time, somebody gets attacked - mind you, very very rarely, a clear indication that they really want nothing to do with us.
I betcha that drowning and fatal boating and surfing accidents are way more prevalent - so what about banning those activities first, the more as the causality is irrefutable?

The Sharks showcased by the Shark Tour operators are however not Tigers, they're just Sandbars and Galapagos Sharks, smallish piscivorous Sharks that in Hawaii frequent the open Ocean and couldn't care less about some swimmer on the coast - because they eat small stuff like fish and squid and because they just don't live there. Yes they are "Sharks" but they are completely different from Tiger Sharks in terms of size, behavior, nutrition and habitat.
Think "fishing": what are the odds of you ever, ever catching an oceanic Fish like a Blue Marlin whilst surf-casting off the beach? With the wrong lure? See?

To make a connection between feeding a few Fish scraps to a Sandbar (mind you, 3 miles offshore) and an attack on a surfer by a Tiger Shark makes about as much sense as claiming that feeding Mongooses at home will trigger more attacks by Bengal Tigers in the Jungle - meaning, zero!

Alas, the public at large just doesn't want to know better.
It's up to the affected operators to try and set the record straight and there has been a first attempt with this, and other articles in the Hawaii press. Data are data and the interpretation is unequivocal.
Except of course to the usual vermin, see the comments section - just gotta love the guy! "Since 1990" - no shit! Did I say self-promoting asshole? Absolutely not! See, I'm learning to be polite!

Of all Shark operations I can think of, Hawaii's Shark viewing tours are probably the safest, most harmless, most ecologically unproblematic and most widely frequented and thus educationally valuable. Hell, it's just a fun snorkeling gig!
It would be such a crying shame if they had to succumb to mass hysteria and the ambitions of a local politician wanting to get elected.

From the bottom of my heart, I really wish them the very best of luck.
Fingers crossed!


Wilson said...

Generally I blame the movie Jaws. Freaked me out as a small kid. Although to be honest, these days when swimming out in the ocean, i'm more afraid of titanic sized squids coming up from the depths to wrap me in its tentacles and drag me to the bottom of the daarrrkk blluueee oceeeaann.

Ok. Thats it. No more monster movies for me >.>

DaShark said...

Yes, it did freak out a lot of folks, not only you!

But as you know, as long as you behave (tho after reading your blog, I'm starting to have my doubts (:), Dakuwaqa will leave you in peace!

Check out the next post - specially for you as you don't have a television!