This is part 4 of a 5-part continuous story about our most exciting everyday monsters. Check back weekly to read on.
Previous chapters can be found here:
He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze back into you.
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Part 4: Let the Healing Begin!
Sharks promote healthy fisheries and healthy oceans. Like any top predators, they improve the health and size of prey populations which increases biodiversity (higher number of different types of organisms), and they improve habitat. Our own health and quality of life depends on ocean ecosystems functioning well. We need healthy oceans. We need sharks.
Besides, sharks are kinda sexy.
Now that we’ve admitted that we are not only in love with sharks, but that we’re in a complicated relationship with them, let’s talk about what we can do to make it supportive and nurturing. Let’s start with the simple stuff; the love notes, holding the door open for sharks, and the surprise bouquet of herring for no reason other than that we love them.
First, don’t eat sharks. Easy. Done.
The next option requires that we take a little personal responsibility. I know, I know, you’ve heard this in past relationships and it’s dredging up uncomfortable associations for you. Well the most consistent thing in your failed dating career is yourself, so let’s start there. Don’t eat fish that are caught in ways that have a lot of bycatch. Bycatch is all of the other animals that are caught in a fishery, other than the intended fish, and can account for the majority of what is caught and killed. Sharks are unintentionally killed as bycatch in great numbers. Sharks grow slow, reach sexual maturity late in life, and tend to produce few offspring. Shark populations can take a long time to recover, and can’t withstand fishing pressures from either direct fishing, or from bycatch. Bycatch often includes turtles and dolphins for you jokesters that need your sea life to be adorable. Damaging fishing practices that have a lot of bycatch and should be avoided include long lining, gillnetting, and bottom trawling. There are a number of agencies that provide easy and helpful guidelines for finding out if the seafood you want to buy is sustainable, such as FishWise, or Seafood Watch.
If a store or restaurant has a hard time telling you how a fish was caught, don’t buy it. You don’t have to break up with that business right away. The store or restaurant may not be lying to you outright, but they may be lying to themselves, and those relationships always end messy.
Behind the next curtain (ooh lala), is civic engagement. It probably sounds completely unromantic to drag in jargon that reminds you of one of your old high school teachers, but I assure you that that kind of role-playing definitely has a place in dating.
A ‘hem, where were we?
Ahh, yes; civic engagement. Economies don’t change unless A LOT of people get together and say that they should. There is money invested in big fisheries already. We know that we need sharks to protect our own future investment in the ocean, so we need to act together to make that happen. We call that stuff legislation. Voting in favor of legislation that does away with destructive fishing practices (again, long lining, gillnetting, and bottom trawls), will help protect sharks and many many other organisms that the ocean needs in order to function well, on a global scale. Voting for legislation that does away with fishing for sharks and shark finning (cutting off and keeping just the fins) will help protect our ocean investment in a big way. Because of the market demand for shark fin soup, it is also important to vote for legislation that stops the sale of shark fins and shark products in general.
Just talk it out:
Those are all of the love-life triage options. Now that we’ve avoided having sharks swim out on our relationship and leave all of the housework to us, we really need to talk about counseling. We want our scaly heartthrobs to stay, so we should take the time to learn about our love. With a little understanding, we can salvage this relationship and ensure that our happy home together in the sea, lasts well into our golden years. We’re going to learn a little about our partners, and we’re going to learn to communicate.
How many species of sharks can you think of? Right, 4-6, (10 -20 if you’re some kind of mega-nerd, made of the combined parts of lesser nerds). There are close to 500 species of sharks in the world that we know of. They fill every manner of ecological niche. Some are as big as whales and eat plankton. These whale-sized sharks are very creatively named, Whale Sharks. I know, the clever wit simply boggles the mind. Some sharks look like algae covered rocks, such as the Wobegong. Some little jerky sharks like the Cookie Cutter shark, sneak up and steal round bites out of marine mammals while they’re diving. The Dwarf Lanternshark even glows. No, really. I’m not kidding this time. This is nothing like that time when I told you dolphins were nice.
Now try something for me. Ask yourself, “Self?”
“How many sharks live in the nearest ocean to I?
Well, for me here near Monterey Bay, I can think of about 20 (mega-nerd). 20 different kinds of sharks that interact with and maintain all kinds of ecosystems right here next to my house! What the heck is a sleeper shark? How many gills does a sixgill shark have? Oh, umm…
What about you? What’s the nearest ocean to you, and how many species of sharks are in it? What? You only live near fresh water? Didn’t you know that there are several shark species that live in fresh water as well? Crazy! See, we’re already learning awesome stuff about our partners. This is how we’ll keep the spice in our relationship! Learning about sharks, their role in maintaining the health of the oceans, and their behavior, will go a long way toward our own understanding and acceptance of the risks of sharing the watery wilderness with them. Remember that whole trophic cascade thing? Even if you live in the exact middle of a continent, sharks are diligently working hard everyday to put fish on your table, and still get gussied up for Shark Week. Show our partners a little affection once and a while.
We’re just as fascinated with sharks today as we were when we first set sail as a species. We don’t need to fantasize about sharks in order to appreciate them. They are perfectly incredible just as they are. We can leave out the stuff of mermaids and sea serpents, renew our vows, and just get to know our partners in ocean stewardship afresh. I don’t mean to poke fun at our early seafaring ancestors for loosing a little in translation due to lack of understanding. I can see how spending months at sea with other smelly sailors, could lead one’s fantasies to mistake a manatee for a voluptuous half-fish being that you would want to have sexy time with. Let’s be honest though; we’re really glad that no one we know today wakes up with a pounding headache next to a marine mammal they hardly recognize and some photos that need explaining. Well, mostly no one…
Can you see why it’s so important to understand our relationship now? Doesn’t it make sense to be able to communicate well?
Great! Glad you agree.
Words matter. Words convey all sorts of hidden ideas if you choose them carefully. The right words can promote self-esteem or healing, while the wrong ones can be inflammatory and cause pain or fear. Now, let the Force flow through you pay attention to your feelings when you hear or read certain words. You already know where you align with most of these terms. Recognize that they each bring up strong emotions. Pay attention to what your gut feeling is when you read them. Do they make you happy? Prideful? Angry? Do they motivate you? Do they make you calm? Take a minute to recognize the feelings that words evoke, and that there may be an implied meaning for each.
Try these familiar phrases on for size:
Pro-life – This implies that you are in favor of life, therefore anyone who is not pro-life is against life. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but the term “pro-choice” just doesn’t have the same punch.
Job creator – If you disagree with a job creator, you are a job-taker-awayer, and you are bad.
Conservative or Liberal – These bring up entire sets of beliefs, political alignments, and how you feel about them.
Nazi – Who hasn’t referred to someone as a Nazi to discredit their diligent behavior, and remove the focus from your own shortcomings? E.g. grammar Nazi, safety Nazi, health Nazi, showing-up-for-work-on-time Nazi, etc.
Powerful feelings, right? Let’s try a few more:
Family values – These are pretty motivating. Lots of folks will take action on behalf of family values.
Tradition – It’s how we honor those who came before us.
“For the children” – I’d do it! Doesn’t really matter what it is; most people would give money, stay up all night, or eat their shoes for the children.
Social Justice – Isn’t that what Batman does? Who could be against that?
Puppies and babies – Ok, maybe I just threw that one in because of your calendar collection. C’mon, you know it made you feel all gushy.
In order to grow our budding romance with sharks to fruition, and enjoy all of the benefits they provide for ocean ecosystems, we need to rethink how our words make us feel.
When your significant other says the words, “What’s that? I didn’t hear you,” you repeat yourself a little louder, because not hearing is perfectly acceptable.
When your significant other says the words, “What’s that? I didn’t listen to you”…
See? The words you choose in a relationship bring up different feelings, and may just land one of you in a miserable heap on the couch for the night.
Let’s try another scenario. If I’m reaching for some hot sauce on the grocery store shelf and bump you out of the way without seeing you, we call that an “accident.” Now, if I look you dead in the eye, and bump you out of the way to reach for my hot sauce, we call that an “attack.” I meant to shove you out of the way. The word “attack” implies intent.
Sharks don’t attack. They simply do not intend to harm people. An “accident” is something that we can prevent with a little forethought and caution. Prior to 1935, most interactions with sharks were referred to as accidents. A report from a scientist of that time used the term “attack”, which took hold in popular media. An earlier report about 3 separate shark bites on the same day and in the same location, stated that all 3 must have been by the same individual shark, based on absolutely no scientific evidence. The two ideas eventually came together in the form of Peter Benchley’s novel about a “rogue shark” that develops a taste for humans and terrorizes a New England town. The novel Jaws, and the subsequent movie adaptation cemented the rogue shark/serial killer idea, and sent our fears spiraling into the kind of irrational thinking that fuels abusive behavior.
Bottom line: words matter. Don’t say “attack.”
Also, don’t get between me and my hot sauce.
Say “accident”, or even call them what they are in each situation. Call it a shark bite. Call it a shark sighting. If a shark bumps into someone and there are no teeth involved, call it a shark encounter. In the unfortunate situation where a person dies as a result of a shark bite, call it a fatal shark bite. Don’t say “attack.”
When we begin to change the words we use in reference to sharks, we also begin to change the feelings that those words incite. Developing a better, rational understanding of sharks that is based on science instead of emotion, will lead to better, practical beach safety. Changing our feelings about sharks will change the way that we manage our interactions with them in ways that are safer for us, and safer for sharks.
We already know that we need sharks to help sustain the health of our future oceans. We’re working on our relationship with them because we want to be able to share the wonder of nature, take a fishing trip, or provide healthy seafood for our children and grand children. Right?
Do it for the children.
Tune in next week for a date with the full-figured beauty of your wildest dreams (well, my wildest dreams anyway).