Sharks continue to fascinate me. They are such efficient beings, so gorgeous when observed in their own world and so well adjusted to their environment. Compared to the large land carnivores, there is no doubt that selachians are less guilty of injuring or killing humans. The lion, for instance, which has been eulogized since Biblical times and is looked upon as the “king of beasts,” has killed far more people than the shark; so has the tiger. But both of these powerful hunters have always received “good press.” We see them as regal beasts, and we admire them for their strength and beauty, realizing they can be dangerous, but continuing to think of them as mammals worthy of our respect. No sane tourist, of course, would stroll about carelessly among lions or tigers, yet tourists disport themselves almost naked in the domain of the sharks and are frequently guilty of inviting attack.
In the many years that I have been studying the natural world, I have come to respect all wild beings and see them in their true perspective, organisms that have been created for a particular purpose and that, together, contribute to the well-being and the continuity of the world’s natural environments, sharks no less than any other animals. Unfortunately, however, because selachians live in a habitat that poses enormous difficulties for those who wish to study it, the behavior of these interesting fish is still not well understood. As a result, the majority of people find it hard, if not impossible, to view them with sympathy and understanding.
As the sharks themselves have taught me, they much prefer to mind their own business provided they are not interfered with. The majority of them behave peacefully when not engaged in hunting for their natural food. They do not like trespassers, but even when they are encroached upon, they rarely attack without warning of their intention to do so, giving an intruder an opportunity to retreat. If we ever manage to understand the rules governing territorial etiquette within the world of sharks, it may well be possible to greatly reduce the number of attacks.
As a child, I became fond of sharks I kept as pets, the majority accepting me as fully as I accepted them. They quickly learned to recognize me and to understand that whenever I entered the water I invariably carried food with me. Never once was I bitten. Later, as an adult, my views became altered by mythology and biological training to such an extent that, for some years, I lost my appreciation for sharks, thinking of them as specimens that could be killed or otherwise used for experiments in the “cause of science.” It was not until I began to do research in Angola that I once again started to think of sharks as fellow beings.
Shark! Nature’s Master Piece (c) 1985 By R.D. Lawrence ISBN 1-881527-57-3
Book Illustrations (c) 1985, 1994 By Gary Low
Also Available as an e-book.