By S M Chen, posted Sept 16, 2015 I recently encountered an interesting short news item. Interesting because it represented the converse of the usual reported adversarial relationship between sharks and people – namely, shark attacks on humans. In actuality, there are only 50-70 shark attacks annually worldwide, of which under 20 are fatal. In comparison, in the coastal USA alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 40 people each year. Yet, for many, shark attacks hold an icy fascination. How else to explain the phenomenal success of first the book, then the film, ‘Jaws’?
Sleek, deadly, powerful, and built for speed and aggression, sharks have been described as the almost perfect killing machine and are apex natural predators. Their skeletons are composed of cartilage, which is lighter than bone and enables them to remain neutrally buoyant, floating without sinking or rising. They replace damaged or broken razor-like teeth with new ones in as little as 24 hours; over the course of a lifetime, they may grow thousands of teeth. Their sense of smell is keen (great whites can detect one drop of blood in 100L of water and may sense small amounts of blood in water up to 5 km away) and they do not sleep. Only 3 (of over 375) species – great white, tiger and bull – are responsible for most human attacks.
While sharks kill fewer than 20 people per year, they themselves suffer greatly at the hands of humans. It is estimated that 20-100 million sharks die annually from fishing activity, including that to remove their fins (which results in death of the animal) for the traditional delicacy shark-fin soup, popular in Asia.
This particular news item concerned the rescue of a shark by swimmers on Porto Pollo Beach, Liscia, in Sardinia, Italy. A short video by Saverio Porcari, documenting events, may be seen here. A shark, not large in comparison to some, is seen swimming close to a number of beachgoers, a few of whom recognized that the shark was hooked and trapped by fishing line. The shark was pulled to shore, where it was immobilized and the hook and line removed. It was then released, and swam away. Onlookers cheered.
Contrast this with what transpires annually on the islands of Faroe, where dolphins/pilot whales are lured into shallow waters by (often rowdy young) men, who, as a sort of rite of passage, hack the animals to death with sharp hooks and knives in blood sport.
Similar activity occurs in Taiji, Japan, with dolphins, porpoises, and small whales.
Our hearts are warmed by examples of human kindness to animals (and, of course, vice-versa; the easiest example of the latter is a dog’s affection/love for its owner). Or of human kindness to other humans, and animal kindness shown to other animals, including those of different species.
Why is that so? One might imagine that, as part of the narrative of the Descent of Man since the Fall, the opposite might be the case. But evil has ever been disparaged, in Holy Writ as well as elsewhere, and those whose moral compass is 180 degrees displaced, who substitute or confuse wickedness with virtue, we term sociopaths. Encoded within the DNA of most of us is the ability (and imperative) to distinguish between good and evil and, one hopes, act accordingly.
Paul, in Ephesians 4:32, exhorts: “Be… kind one to another.” While he was speaking to humans about fellow humans (the topic of which is not in dispute), I do not think it too much of a stretch to include creatures of the earth, air, and sea as worthy recipients of compassion.
As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”