There Must Be Some Misunderstanding

One of the hallmarks of our usual sort of reasoning as human beings is that we do not well understand the motives of those beings around us. Despite our obvious power and intelligence, we are somewhat fragile compared to the larger beasts around us, and actions that would be playful for such animals as lions or hippos are fatal for human beings. Among the more tragic examples of cases where human beings and animals misunderstand each other is in the case of sharks. Sharks are, to be sure, apex predators in the water, but so are orcas, and orcas are viewed as rather loveable beings in large part because they are smart enough to recognize that human beings are not food, but rather potential friends.

Rarely does the gap between fear and reality yawn as wide as the relationship between mankind and sharks. Films and documentaries have for decades viewed the shark as being a fearsome animal that desires to cause trouble to human beings. Little is further from the truth. Sharks certainly hunt a great deal of other animals in the sea, but have little interest in human beings as food. When human beings die because of shark bites, it is not because the shark sees the human being as a potential food, but rather because the shark has caused so much bleeding that death occurs as a byproduct of an attack, often out of misunderstanding because the shark was drawn by shiny objects or distracted by thrashing behavior that reminded the shark of how its food usually behaves.

On the other hand, while sharks are such a slight danger to human beings such that in the United States twice as many people are killed by fireworks than by sharks, and about a hundred times as many people die by ladders as by sharks, at least according to the statistics that I was able to see from a fish biologist, human beings are such a danger to sharks that numerous species of sharks have in the last 50 years been driven to near extinction. Sharks attack people in small numbers, often provoked, and seldom leading to death, and yet human beings kill sharks by the millions, often just for the love of destroying what is viewed as a savage and threatening animal or for such abominable dishes as shark fin soup, where the fins are taken to eat while the rest of the shark is left to decompose. Far from sharks being a menace to us, we are an active menace to them, and yet we think ourselves justified in so doing.

Even if we made a sudden change in our behavior with regards to sharks and ceased to hunt them into oblivion, it may be too late to save some of the shark species that have lost more than 99% of their population in the last 50 years or so. Understanding that sharks are one of the animals viewed as dangerous that nevertheless does not view human beings as food can help to reduce the fear that people have of shark encounters. And to the extent that we recognize that we are many orders of magnitude more threatening and dangerous to sharks than is the case the other way around, perhaps we may mourn for the sharks that we have wasted if we cannot bring ourselves to try to befriend them? That would be a great improvement.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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