The story was too weird to ignore, and of course, it happened it Florida. A woman, at last check with her name withheld lest she become the target of immense ridicule and embarrassment, was hospitalized with a two-foot juvenile nurse shark attached to her arm in a scene that comes straight out a movie like Failure To Launch. In that movie, if the reader remembers, the male protagonist finds himself attacked by a vegetarian lizard and is forced to front whether he is living contrary to nature. Whether or not the lady in question has the same sort of soul-searching about living contrary to nature herself, being attacked by a nurse shark is by no means an easy task and that ought to lead someone to wonder if they are indeed living contrary to nature as well. Of course, while the woman is no doubt enjoying her time in the hospital, the nurse shark was killed, its life taken away because of the folly of a Florida beachgoer.
Our thoughts about sharks tend to be a fair amount of fear mixed with respect and even awe. We watch movies like Jaws or nature videos about hammerheads and great whites and other aggressive shark species and forget that some shark species are not aggressive at all. The nurse shark, for example, is a very placid and even lazy sort of animal. When faced with scuba divers it tends to act like a friendly puppy dog, enjoying being pet on the head and scratched behind its earholes. In order to get this sort of friendly, easy-going animal to attack, one has to behave rather foolishly, and there is anecdotal evidence at least from witnesses to the nurse shark attack that the animal was being tormented by having its tail pulled, and unable to escape, reared around and bit the tormentor on the arm. Most of us would be of the belief that anyone or anything that is being bullied and tormented is likely to strike out in some fashion, and most of us, especially those of us with long and painful memories of being bullied and tormented ourselves, are likely to have our sympathies squarely with the oppressed, and not much if at all with the oppressor, simply on a matter of principle.
As much as it is in vogue, and has been for quite time, to point out the ridiculousness of Florida news stories or the state’s tendency to end up in “News Of The Weird ,” there are at least a couple of reasons why this tendency is likely to have occurred. Once Florida attracted a reputation of being an oddball place full of weird happenings and bizarre eccentrics, then any story that was likely to confirm that existing judgment was likely to receive a great deal more attention than it would otherwise. A reputation is like a black hole or some other sort of gravitational anomaly in social space, it is a heaviness that pulls attention and scrutiny to itself, and our native tendency for confirmation bias leads us to seek out interpretations or evidence that confirms existing bias, as a way of comforting ourselves that in this crazy world we understand at least some things, like the fact that Floridians do incredibly stupid things, like torment otherwise friendly nurse sharks in the shallow ocean . Yet even as Florida’s bad reputation keeps biting it, both literally and figuratively, with the ease of such stories going viral, perhaps the reputation Florida has received was in some way inevitable given that Florida is a place that has long had a carnivalesque atmosphere of a place where people go to escape the usual rules and strictures of their behavior, a place that attracted a lot of people from elsewhere who acted like clueless tourists and transients because they lacked an intimate familiarity with the place and with its unique and unusual qualities. In such a context, weird stories are inevitable, given the fact that many in Florida are strangers to themselves, putting on the airs of being a carefree and footloose tourist free of usual restrictions on conduct, strangers to others from diverse backgrounds, and strangers to the unusual land that they are in but not of.
It seems perhaps too obvious that the right thing for the woman now in the hospital to have done originally was to avoid tormenting the nurse shark that attacked her. Perhaps this person (or others who read the story) will reflect upon their actions and live in such a way that they avoid tormenting those around them, whether human or animal, but that may be too much to hope for. Perhaps they will merely have a complex about sharks because they were attacked by one of the most docile animals that Florida has—it would be the equivalent of being mauled by Florida’s small deer, for example, or being gored by a gentle stingray because one had tugged on its barbed tail idiotically. If one cannot handle peaceful animals who are gentle and wish to befriend, it would seem a hopeless task to be able to cope successfully with illegally imported Burmese pythons or native Florida alligators or fierce barracuda or elusive Florida panthers or even cranky snapping turtles and timid but deadly water moccasins. We live in a dangerous world—and Florida is a more than usually dangerous place when it comes to its flora and fauna—and one cannot afford to add to one’s troubles by tormenting peaceful and friendly strangers that one meets. That is a lesson that applies far beyond Florida, if anyone is willing to learn it.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: