Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

The monstrous shark and other myths of the sea

First published on The Punch on 2nd November, 2010

Fact: You are more likely to be bitten by a New Yorker than by a shark.

Summer is a matter of weeks away, and almost on cue, sharks are being sighted, and a media frenzy is beginning.

A frenzy not one unlike the shark one they would have us believe is approaching.

Last week there was the news that a large hook had been bent in the ocean, possibly by a ‘monster-shark’, and that possible shark could possibly be up to 6 metres in length.

Seven News, aware that they had a big one on the line, aired footage of a hammerhead shark that happened to be unluckily in the path of their helicopter (or as I’d like to think of it as, an ‘innocent bystander’).

Many news services later followed it up with the story of a surfer who recently died from a shark attack in California.  Since then a diver off the coast of Western Australia has been attacked. If this is any indication of the months ahead, it’s going to be a long, shark-filled summer.

So what is it about sharks that manage to tap such terror into us, and lead the media to focus an unwarranted amount of coverage on a bent fishing hook?

Dog attacks are more common, and yet we lie beside these faithful companions in our sleep. It is possibly just a ‘mammal’ thing – we’re untrustworthy of what is a large fish with an uncompassionate ‘face’ and sharp teeth.

We’re already out of our element, swimming with limbs that by design are for land. Regardless of what drives us to be scared of these creatures, whether it be ‘phyla-phobia’ or something you can blame on Steven Spielberg, it’s a fact that they’ve got more to be scared of from us.

Imagine, if you will, that humans were in the shark’s position. Every year Earth would get a certain amount of alien visitors from outer space, beings that aren’t built to survive in our environment, but still enjoy the feel of our atmosphere.

The number of alien visitors increase in summer months, and every now and then, we accidentally hit and kill one of them with a car. It happens, and is unfortunate, but face it, we’re doing it to each other all the time.

The aliens, however, don’t react kindly to this. Their media becomes hysterical by the prospect of ‘human attacks’, there are worried stories about ‘human sightings’ every time aliens visit the Earth… and yet they keep coming. Their numbers don’t slow, they increase.

In the meantime, the aliens are hunting humans, because they’ve found that human skin makes an excellent sofa cover that both complements the décor and resists stains.

This last part of my thinly veiled analogy points to shark fin soup – some estimates say that up to 100 million sharks killed every year just for their fins, which are ground up and put into soup that tastes more of the chicken stock than any of the other ingredients.

I’m not saying that shark attacks aren’t terrible when they happen. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t be careful in the water, or shouldn’t be aware of when they’re about. What I believe is important to remember is that the chance of a shark attack is remote.

On average, one person has died from shark attack in Australia per year, a remarkably steady number considering our population increase of 5 million in less than 20 years.

You are 80 times more likely to die in a drowning accident, 11 times more likely to die by being struck by lightening, and 3 times more likely to die from bee stings.

True, if we weren’t being scared out of the water by the media the occurrences might be much higher – they could be seen as being a valuable (but questionable) public service that way.

But should we fear and hate the shark? Certainly not. Remember, you are aliens in their world. You are visitors making use of their home.

One distant day, and Darwin willing when sharks are more evolved, they will have a nightly news service that is just as frightened of humans and filled with human sightings – perhaps at that point, we may treat them a little kinder.

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2010 by in television and tagged , , , .
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