By Cristina Zenato
Photo by Cristina Zenato
With a lifetime dedicated to working with sharks, sooner or later the conversation falls on the subject of JAWS. Not only the damage it has caused the reputation of sharks, but also the physical damage to the shark populations after it was released. People went out to get revenge and to cleanse the oceans from the infestation caused by sharks, believing they were making the sea safer for all these poor unaware swimmers.
I do not deny that the following hysteria was caused and stirred to high levels by the movie Jaws, but the more I hear about it and how Peter Benchley had to spend a lifetime trying to undo the damage he created, the more I find myself disagreeing with these thoughts.
The fact is that poor Mr. Benchley didn’t even make the movie, he wrote a book and the movie was based on his novel. Both the movie and the novel are works of fiction and fantasy and very well done for that time if you ask me. Neither Peter Benchley nor Stephen Spielberg had any intention of creating a documentary. This work was never advertised as real and documented in the wild. Spielberg created a movie and like many others it had believable and unbelievable actions in it. How the public decided to react to it is not something that could have been foreseen.
Movies are designed to make us think of different places, of different worlds; some movies are designed to scare us, some to inspire us. Some are violent, some are sweet or plain cheesy, some are funny, some dark, some depressing. Some are true stories, some are based on novels and works of fiction, some we elect to watch, some we refuse.
Instead of worrying about Jaws, maybe we should look at programs like Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, a story about as real as Sharkanado. I cannot count the amount of emails, messages and questions I receive in regard to this being real. Not to mention those who are convinced it is real, period! Nothing you can say will convince them otherwise.
And yet the movie is always on everybody’s lips as the culprit of the demise of sharks. I prefer to look instead at each and every one of us, in our lack of knowledge and understanding, and most of the time at our stubbornness in refusing to investigate what we see and hear and accepting what is presented to us in whichever form.
Photo by Lucie Drilkova
People love watching the relationship between my babies and me, love reading about diving with sharks, and love the associated images and films. Yet despite all this tangible proof that sharks are animals we can be in the water with, they keep believing that information from third parties has more irrefutable truth than what the people entering the water with sharks and coming out (gasp) alive can ever show them.
So why do we fear, hate, demonize sharks so much? They are not the only predators in the oceans, not the only ones big enough to pose a threat to us, and for sure not the ones who would actually seek us out and eat us.
My personal belief is that sharks prove to us humans our vulnerable side and the fact that we are no masters. On this planet we control almost everything. We control how our food grows and is kept, we control the food of our food and we control the animals interested in eating our food or the food of our food. Thanks to our intelligence, we have machines, we have tools, we have technology, and we have adapted to living in every single environment on this planet except for under the water.
We can enter the oceans, we can be there for a while, we can explore and even pretend we have the capability to live there, but in the end we can’t. Sooner or later we have to surface and come to shore.
In the water, without any help we are useless and powerless, our eyes are not designed to see under the surface, we can’t breathe and can’t swim at any speed of interest, not to mention our capability of thermoregulation is so poor we can barely resist a few hours in temperate waters and mere seconds and minutes in colder ones without thermal protection. And even with thermal protection our time in the water is limited. In the water and under the water we can’t seek shelter and we can’t use nature to our advantage; we are as powerless as when we first came out of the womb. And it is hard to accept such a level of vulnerability. It’s scary, so scary it makes us angry and we need to find a way to make it “safer” to remove what poses us a threat. Sharks become the target because they are perfect for the water environment, they are ancient and efficient survivors, they have all the tools to live and prosper in the only environment we can’t. They in a way surpass even marine mammals, which still need to surface to be able to breathe.
So when somebody asks me how I feel about Jaws and the damage it inflicted on sharks I usually reply: “It’s a movie, not a documentary” and recommend we start learning about sharks by reading books and information from people who spend time in the water with them. In today’s age we can use technology to connect with scientists, divers, and shark professionals; we can learn to separate reality from fiction and build knowledge to kill fear and to appreciate what a wonderful, precious and vulnerable animal Bruce really is.