Magazine article The Spectator

Sharks Are Awesome!

Magazine article The Spectator

Sharks Are Awesome!

Article excerpt

If naturalists accept they're terrifying, we'll have a better chance of saving them

For 40 years, ever since Jaws set box-office records and struck terror into the hearts of a generation, there's been a counter-movement to rehabilitate the reputation of sharks. Marine scientists were appalled by the film, and have spent nearly half a century telling us that these sinister creatures are just misunderstood. Very few sharks are dangerous, they say. Do not be afraid! But I've dived with hundreds of sharks, and I'm scared of them. Sharks are terrifying -- that's what makes them great.

I've been fascinated by sharks ever since watching Jaws as a teenager. I have more than 40 books about them on my shelves and I read any report of shark attacks I can find. Last weekend a teenage girl and a teenage boy both lost an arm in separate incidents on the same beach in North Carolina. In Réunion there have been seven fatal shark attacks in the past four years: in April, 13-year-old Elio Canestri was virtually bitten in half. I know a wildlife film-maker who almost lost an arm to a supposedly harmless grey reef shark, and a woman who was lucky to survive after a rapid attack from a 3ft-long blacktip.

When I go into the sharks' environment I expect to have to watch them just as carefully as I would a lion if I were on safari. But it's this very deadliness that makes sharks so appealing. Without a decent dose of fear, we would lose interest. Visit any of the websites urging us to protect sharks and you will soon be told that there is more chance of being killed by a bee than of being eaten by a shark. Indeed, shark conservationists frown at the idea of being 'eaten' at all. Statistics prove that more than half of all injuries to people are the result of 'exploratory bites', after which the shark swims off, having established that it doesn't like the taste of human flesh.

I don't quibble with all that. Just three, possibly four, species of shark account for more than 90 per cent of human deaths; the great whites, bull sharks and tiger sharks. Oceanic whitetips are the other bad boys, but unless you are a shipwreck survivor you'll hardly have the chance to meet them. …

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