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Archive for August 18th, 2011

Anyone who has not yet heard of the tragic deaths from shark attacks in Seychelles just isn’t paying attention, as the story went global very fast after a British honeymooner became the second victim in a fortnight.

Following on the heels of the future King of England’s own honeymoon here, the story quickly became fodder the world’s media could really sink their teeth into and requests for info, photos, gory details … whatever … have already come in to me from reporters hoping for a local angle competing publications may have missed.

Here is my response to an email from The Daily Mirror:

I’m on a different island, the main island of Mahé, not Praslin where the attacks occurred, so have none of the info you’ve asked for.

As a service, however, you might remind readers that the sea is full of fish and some of them are dangerous and that not all holiday destinations are Disneyland. I am hoping these tragic events don’t lead to a massive shark kill, as it is their soup we enter when we decide to go for dips outside the confines of swimming pools.

As happened in Norway recently, man met beast on beast’s turf and shit happened. Not nice. Not pretty. Very sad. That bear, by the way, was in bad shape

While examining the 39 stone male that was shot and killed after attacking the campsite of 13 people, Norway’s veterinary institute discovered that several of the bear’s teeth were “very damaged” before the attack.

“Under two of the canines and many of the incisors, the nerves were exposed. This causes serious pain and changes the behaviour of bears,” Bjoernar Ytrehus, the veterinarian who examined the bear’s head, said in a statement.

“This could be a factor that contributed to the attack,” he said.

“Starving and suffering, a bear is more unpredictable and aggressive than normal,” he said.

Well, yeah. So am I. And uninvited guests would not be welcome here, either, under those circumstances.

The Indian Ocean is much bigger than a Norwegian island, however, and sharing the water is usually quite okay. Any casual snorkel reveals the vast variety of life under the surface where animals swim, crawl, burrow, float, sleep, breed, eat and get on with the business of living. There is an obvious food chain that ranges from small to big to bigger to huge with each creature filling a function. That’s what’s often called “Nature”.

Shark is a popular menu item in Seychelles, so obviously man-bites-fish is common enough, but contrary to some lines of thought, humans are also a link in the food chain. Sure, we’re top predators and kill more of our fellow Earth inhabitants than any other species, but that doesn’t mean we’re not beyond being considered snacks.

There is no malice in a shark attack, no Gee, that guy just got married and looks so happy on his honeymoon, so let’s put paid to that involved. A big, hungry fish has no motive for mayhem other than lunch and notes no difference in packaging.

We can thank Stephen Spielberg for imbuing us with accusatory dread over sharks … and I have … and the lurking fear and accompanying music that comes unbidden in mirky water, but the fact is we give up our role as top predator when we enter the water and might as well change our name to Frank Furter.

Being on holiday does not convey safety and no amount of stars in a destination’s designation encases a visitor in an unbreakable bubble of protection. The world’s most beautiful beach isn’t a ride at Universal and there’s no keeping your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times option for those who chose to think it’s safe to get in the water.

Sharks are ancient, complex and fascinating creatures that have been around in one form or another for more than 420 million years.

Since that time, sharks have diversified into 440 species, ranging in size from the small dwarf lanternshark, Etmopterus perryi, a deep sea species of only 17 centimetres (6.7 in) in length, to the whale shark, Rhincodon typus, the largest fish, which reaches approximately 12 metres (39 ft 4 in) and which feeds only on plankton, squid, and small fish by filter feeding. Sharks are found in all seas and are common down to depths of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). They generally do not live in freshwater, with a few exceptions such as the bull shark and the river shark which can live both in seawater and freshwater. They breathe through five to seven gill slits. Sharks have a covering of dermal denticles that protects their skin from damage and parasites, and improves their fluid dynamics so the shark can move faster. They have several sets of replaceable teeth.

Well-known species such as the great white shark, tiger shark, blue shark, mako shark, and the hammerhead are apex predators, at the top of the underwater food chain. Their extraordinary skills as predators fascinate and frighten humans, even as their survival is under serious threat from fishing and other human activities.

That serious threat amounts to an estimated 100 MILLION sharks killed every year by people, many just for their fins.

That, too, is tragic.

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