Unwisely choosing, or possibly being forced, to watch “Jaws” at a very young age has left me with a near-phobia of deep water. Actually, it isn’t so much the water or its deepness as the things that live in it and want to eat me. Not only do they want to eat me (my brain is convinced), they are actively conspiring about it, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so if I were dumb enough to enter a body of water deep enough for them to swim in. I even avoid lakes and the deep end of swimming pools, because you never know. There could be a tunnel.
Given all that, you might find it a little surprising that I am going to stick up for the shark here.
Granted, it was a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias, which literally but redundantly means “sharp-toothed shark”), the same kind that terrified me in the movie and has been plotting against me ever since I moved out of Kansas. And granted, the great white is responsible for more confirmed unprovoked attacks on human beings than any other shark species, according to the International Shark Attack File, which is a real scientific thing and not just something I keep in my desk. These facts are not going to help dislodge my irrational fear of these
murderous bastards mighty creatures, something I now recall I have mentioned before. See “Shark-Attack Lawsuit Raises Interesting Questions, Like What Were You Doing in the Ocean to Begin With” (Aug. 10, 2016); cf. “Man Accused of Nude Swim With Sharks Also Wanted for Assault at Medieval Times” (Oct. 17, 2018).
But my rational mind does understand, after all, that real sharks are not evil monsters that kill for fun or just because they have been holding a grudge. So the fact that they swim back and forth along the same path my plane takes to get to Hawaii is
almost certainly a coincidence. Sharks are just animals trying to survive and doing what they have evolved to do, and they should not be harassed or killed for mercenary or stupid reasons.
Like this one.
I was vaguely aware that “food blogging” existed. I didn’t know about, but am not surprised by, the existence of “extreme food blogging,” in which people post pictures or videos of themselves going on binges or eating rare or unusual things like crocodiles or ostriches or Kardashians or God knows what else. This is apparently popular enough that it has a name: “mukbang,” which Gizmodo says is a combination of the Korean words for “eating” and “broadcast.” In 2020, the Chinese government was reportedly considering imposing fines on mukbangers, part of a campaign to discourage people from wasting food. Whether that happened or not, it is illegal in China to buy, sell, or transport a great white shark, and this is why a young female blogger there was recently fined more than US$18,000 for posting a video in which she cooked and ate one.
“It may look vicious, but its meat is truly very tender,” said the shark about me—sorry, that’s what the blogger said about the shark, in the video just before taking a bite of it. The Gizmodo link has an image she posted of her next to the shark, in order to show it is longer than she is tall. According to the report, the blogger claimed she bought the shark online for 7,700 yuan, or about US $1,100. She also claimed doing so was legal, but that seems to not be true. According to the report, authorities confirmed the shark was a great white by testing the DNA in what was left over, and fined her about $18,500 for violating the country’s Wild Animal Protection Law. The white shark is also protected under international treaties, such as the elaborately named “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” also known as CITES. So that’s another reason not to eat it, as much as it may want to eat you.
Please do not allow my ravings to exaggerate the risk of shark attacks. That risk is very low, especially compared to other common dangers. According to the ISAF, for example, in 1987 various sharks injured 13 people in U.S. waters, while in New York City alone 95 people were bitten by squirrels. (1,587 people were bitten by other people.) And compared to lightning strikes—something we use as a figure of speech to describe things that are extremely rare—shark attack pales by comparison: on average, 38 people are killed every year by lightning, but there are only 18.7 shark bites annually and the average number of resulting fatalities is just 0.5. So the risk is extremely low.
On the other hand, half a fatality is still pretty fatal, my brain is reminding me. Hey, I didn’t claim this phobia was rational.