This avenging angel function of the White shark has raised its status as an environmental icon, above that of the whale, the dolphin, even the intriguing old man of the forest, the Orangutan.
Misanthropy is as old as the hills, from the moment we crawled out of the sludge hatred of our brothers and sisters has been a constant companion.
We all love a little revenge fantasy, from Cain and Abel to De Niro’s Trav Bickle who famously wished for a cleansing rain to rid the streets of “human scum and filth” revenge fantasies have offered succour to our sense of fragile aggrievement.
We all pine somewhere in our heart of hearts for an avenging angel to restore justice, no matter how misplaced that sense of justice might be.
Read any below the line commentary on a White shark attack story, no matter the source and it becomes perfectly clear that the White shark has become the post-modern avenging angel du jour.
“Cull fucking humans”
“Humans are a cancer on the Earth that needs eradication” etc etc – is the gist of it.
The latest attack is usually less than a day old before those comments are delivered with a misanthropic glee. This avenging angel function of the white shark has raised its status as an environmental icon, above that of the whale, the dolphin, even the intriguing old man of the forest, the orangutan. In this world view the white shark is a way of being, a cypher, a means of understanding and taking revenge on a human created world gone mad.
Judge, jury and righteous executioner.
Despite the misanthropic undertone post-attack the focus of shark public relations is on rehabilitation of the image of White shark as violent offender. Jaws author Peter Benchley, as reaction to the fear unleashed by his creation, led the PR effort, declaring after the 2001 fatal White shark attack on Ken Crews: “I can say absolutely that the shark was not acting with malice towards the man; not with intent to do bodily harm…”
This omniscience into the mind of the shark is a curious feature of most shark writing, even those of a scientific bent.
The leading shark conservationist gals like Ocean Ramsey in Hawaii and Madison Stewart in Australia are expert in this linguistic trick, casually maintaining the White shark is cautious and curious and any bite is just an unfortunate mistake.
I don’t begrudge these gals their living as white shark experts, they are, as Beck sang on Mellow Gold, “goddesses milking the time for all that it’s worth”.
And if they can make a hundred fifty US dollars for a download on how to avoid shark attack, then that counts as an honest living in my books.
Intense contradictory feelings cloud my judgement on this issue. I’m down with the White shark as avenging angel, but I wish the target was soccer mums and not my pals.
Terrible thoughts, I know.
My bairn wanted a go out at the Point this week. There’s no-one down the inside section. The White shark has created space which I am happy to inhabit. Four wheeling, fizzing constellations of bait balls getting hit by meso-predators erupt in spray showers within a hundred metres.
The feeding frenzies slip in and out of the sand bank. In the near distance I can see half a dozen late migrating humpbacks, the sound of over-sized pectoral fins slapping the water arrives a half second after the vision. Situation normal for around here.
If you avoided surfing when bait or whale were visible you’d never paddle out.
My boyo gets the wave of his life.
Looking back I am blinded by the glare. I hear screaming.
I can hear “Dad! Dad!”.
Blood turns to ice as I sprint paddle towards the screaming.
It’s a fin chop. He wants another one.
I see a pal who was in the water when Mani was fatally attacked. Another, also present, was absent. He suffers post-traumatic stress. They worked on Mani for an hour before the paramedics arrived. It came first for one leg, then hit him again on the other. Had to be prised away from the teenager.
My pal cannot come to terms with it. The bite and spit, the “cautious” animal who had made a mistake and bore no malice; that means nothing to him now. All he remembers are the eyes of the boy. They were open, but lifeless, like the eyes of a fish pulled out of an icebox.
I can’t deny the frisson of death, the senses working overtime is a panacea, a cleansing rain, to what Rimbaud called the “horror of home”.
I’ll take this flight of fancy; this danger serrated with an Abrahamic edge over the vortex of tech addiction any day.
We paddle out because that’s what we do.
Amor Fati. Love of fate propels us onwards.