Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Jaws made the shark a monster in our minds

Guest Blog
by Lee-Anne Lee

HOW do you feel when the word shark is mentioned? Do you feel fear, excitement, sadness, blessed?

For my four-year old nephew Kieran, a shark is a friendly animal named Lenny from the animation movie Shark Tail. When I left Fiji on this voyage, Kieran asked that if I saw Lenny if I could say hi for him. I feel Kieran is lucky in that he has only good feelings toward sharks unlike myself who grew up watching the movie Jaws, fear of them and thinking that they are only man eaters were instilled in me at a young age. I ask myself, "why do I fear sharks when I haven't even encountered one while swimming in the ocean?" I can only put my fear down to how sharks are perceived in movies and the media.

I recently watched a documentary called Sharkwater produced in 2007 which has changed my way of thinking toward these amazing sea creatures. I learnt and have extracted some info from the documentary which I feel is important to changing people's fear toward sharks as it has for me.

Sharks have been around before the dinosaurs and are the only large animal that's remained unchanged for 400 million years.

New animals to evolve in the ocean have been shaped by their predators, the sharks, giving rise to schooling behaviour, camouflage, speed, size and communication.

Sharks control the population below them, eliminating species that are easy prey and creating new ones. Even though sharks have very few young and take up to 25 years to reach sexual maturity they have managed to survive through five major extinctions that wiped most life from the planet. They are architects of our world. They are the perfect predators that hold the underworld in balance.

The fact is sharks do not eat people. Most sharks lack the equipment they need to go after large animals like us and they know that.

They have evolved to eat certain prey animals and most sharks are picky eaters.

When a shark mistake does happen, the person inevitably ends up back on shore. In most shark attacks flesh is never removed.

Even in the odd case where someone dies it's usually because of blood loss not because the shark ate the person.

With so many shark diving tours in Fiji taking out hundreds of divers each year, I have not heard of one shark attack. Shouldn't this say tell us they are not the man eaters most of us are led to believe.

If you look at statistics more people die from car accidents, drug-related problems, drowning etc than shark attacks. I've been told that divers understand them better because they come face to face with these magnificent creatures and most of the time the sharks are more scared of the diver than the diver is of the shark. Sharks are just like dogs. You tease them or intimidate them you get bitten, no difference. A dog chases a car, a bicycle or a jogger but a shark will rarely chase a surfboard or a trawling line or a diver. Skipper says that sharks don't like biting Fijians because the shark's mouth gets all numb from all the kava that Fijians drink.

Peter Benchly who directed and Stan Waterman who was involved in the under water filming of Jaws (who skipper knows personally) said they deeply regretted making the movie because of the negative impact it had on sharks after the movie was released.

Stan Waterman, who is in his 80s and is still an avid diver, has been and still is very vocal and passionate about the conservation and protection of sharks.

We need to be start protecting these helpless creatures. We need to implement laws in Fiji to stop the slaughtering of sharks for their fins. Think twice people when you order a shark fin soup.

The ocean is basically the life support system of the planet. To change that life support system in any major way is a risky thing.

A few of the crew members on the Uto Ni Yalo who have their diving certificate have convinced me to get mine as well which I will surely be doing when I get home. I know my heart will most probably start racing when I finally come face to face with a shark but I am looking forward to facing my fear and experience swimming among these amazing magnificent creatures in the near future.

Here are some statistics that will most probably shock you as it did me:

* The world's shark population is estimated to have declined by 90 per cent.

* Sharks kill 5 people each year.

* Elephants and tigers: 100

* Execution: 2,400

* Illegal drugs: 22,000

* Road Accidents: 1,200,000

* Starvation: 8,000,000

In just one year crocodiles around the world wiped out as many people as sharks have killed over the past 100. Crocodiles are protected.

Lee-Anne Lee is aboard the Uto Ni Yalo sailing from Fiji to San Francisco.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...