Shark Attacks

Shark Attacks

I recently read Francois Sarano’s excellent forthcoming book In the Name of Sharks (sent to me by the publishers because I wrote a review of a book about the octopus in the Wall Street Journal). It puts up a strong case for the preservation of shark populations in the face of dwindling numbers and impending extinction. The shark has a bad reputation in the human population, fed by prejudice and irrational fear (Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for in spearheading the human desire to eliminate sharks from the face of the planet). It turns out that shark attacks (Sarano calls them “accidents”) are almost invariably caused by fear (on the part of the shark), territoriality, self-defense, and misunderstanding—not by wanton aggression or predatory behavior. Sharks are not innately violent or perpetually angry. They don’t attack for no reason. They are actually pretty nice, even lovable. This set me wondering about other vices in human and animal populations: do we find counterparts of human vices in other species? Is there wanton aggression, cruelty, torture, bullying, murder, hate crimes, sadism, emotional abuse, malicious gossip, defamation, nasty comments? Apparently not: such evils exist only in human populations. Animals can certainly be violent, but there is a point to it; it isn’t motivated by sheer malice. There are no Iago’s of the animal world. If we want a trait that sets us apart from animals, sheer nastiness would be a good candidate. Even sharks look upon us with disgust and horror.

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