Wednesday, July 26, 2017


It's the annual Shark Week on the Discovery channel, and they're preempting all their regular programming for a humongous Sharkathon. They've been doing this since 1988. Twenty-nine years of sharks. I remember seeing ads for it before I even got the Discovery channel. I can't believe they're still at it. 

The ratings for this are still great. Last year they dipped a bit because they moved it to earlier in the summer, desirous of avoiding competition from the Summer Olympics. Now they're back and, I presume, sharkier than ever. Speaking of the Olympics, the Shark Week festivities opened this year with the Michael Phelps vs. Great White Shark swimming race. (Spoiler alert! Shark won.) 

I'm puzzled by the shark appeal. 

We have a lot of ways of thinking about sharks. We may see them as: voracious eating machines (Jaws), nature's amazing beautiful swimmers (oceanographers who hated Jaws), subject of comical movies (Sharknado and sequels), or dinner (people who like seafood that tastes like pee). Discovery tries to thread the needle, on one fin showing sharks as maniacal death beasts from hell, while on the other fin placating ichthyologists by saying nice things about them. 

I suppose what you think of sharks depends on your perspective. If you're in a restaurant, that's one thing. If you're in the ocean, that's another. If you're on I-64 near Louisville, you're probably not thinking about them much at all. 

But that proximity is part of the interest, isn't it? I don't follow Shark Week, but I'll bet many of the shows make the viewer wonder What would I do if that was me and a shark was coming my way? And there are not a lot of good answers to that. Sharks occupy a space in our psyche that mammals do not. There are a lot more teddy bears than teddy sharks. Sharks kill more people in the US than bears or snakes or dogs or poisonous spiders, so even though an infinitesimal number of deaths are caused by sharks, compared to cars or cancer or coronary disease, they beat other critters cold. 

The thing about sharks, though, is that to get sharked to death -- contra Sharknado -- you have to be in its element. Even the best human swimmers are pretty weak compared to stuff that swims down there all the time. If you're in bear country, you and Grizz are kind of on equal footing, but if you're in shark country, Bitey Face has all the advantages. So what makes a shark attack so terrifying is that you've yielded so much to your opponent already. It's like beginning a chess game with one pawn, a rook, and your king. And your king's in check.

So you really have to stay away from the water. Back in 2013, when I was writing on my old defunct blog, a Canadian moose made the news by becoming supper for a shark, which then nearly choked to death because it just ate a huge freaking moose. 

Now, the moose in question was probably dead when the scavenging shark found it. Our lesson: if you don't want to be eaten by a shark, it would help to not die on the beach.

And that's pretty much my goal, not to be eaten by a shark. So I'll be staying in the living room. If a shark tries to break in here, it's in for a world of hurt.

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