8.4.09

You Don't Need A Bigger Boat

Anybody remember when the Crocodile Hunter died? I know it was a few years ago, but it leads into something I've wanted to talk about for a while. For those of you who forgot about this ultimately foreseeable incident, Steve Irwin was a certifiably insane Australian who made his living provoking and antagonizing potentially dangerous animals of every stripe. In his extensive career he was bitten, stung, strangled and otherwise maimed by just about every predatory animal on the planet. He eventually met his admittedly tragic end on the pointy side of a manta ray's stinger – bam, right through the heart. Like I said, raise your hand if you didn't see this one coming. Statistically there are only so many times you can poke deadly animals with a stick or drag them around by the tail or whatever before one of them punches your clock. So Steve Irwin got Dracula'd by a venomous fish, and the entertainment world lost one more strangely compelling nutcase.

The response? A whole school of stingrays were found mutilated with their stingers ripped off all over the beaches of beautiful Queensland, Australia, because a bunch of rabid fans figured it was justifiable retribution against a species that clearly has an agenda to rid the surface world of wingnut naturalists (that's sarcasm, folks). Leaving aside the somewhat dire insinuations about human nature this incident illustrates, it points to the very human proclivity to hate and fear anything we don't understand.

It's the same thing with stuff like Jaws. Peter Benchley wrote a book about an almost-comically homicidal shark that preyed on the unwary swimmers of Amity Island. The movie version by Stephen Spielberg builds on the already-unlikely premise. The big biter leaves a trail of dead tourists in its wake until a trio of local thugs (a sheriff, a marine biologist and – get this – a professional shark hunter) decide to form a brute squad and go hunting for the underwater beast. A string of unlikely circumstances follows, including the fact that the shark apparently really hates English drinking songs, culminating in the use of a pressurized barrel and a rifle to quite literally explode the evil fish.

This is bullsh*t upon bullsh*t, folks – it's pure, unadulterated fiction. Seriously – a survey done by the Florida Museum of Natural History notes that in 2006, there were only 62 cases of what they call “unprovoked” shark attacks on humans (“unprovoked”, of course, meaning the non-Steve Irwin variety). Sharks don't like people-meat; even the most grossly obese American tourist isn't fat enough for the great-white palette, and usually humans are attacked by sharks because they're mistaken for seals or other marine life more suitable to the diet of a twenty-foot long apex predator. Why are they mistaken for seals, you might ask? Because humans have this unwavering desire to throw themselves into intrinsically dangerous situations in order to pursue recreation. Case in point: surfing. Leaving aside all the other stuff that can go wrong (like drowning, or generally looking like a douchebag), why would you want to dress in a rubbery, seal-esque wetsuit and leap on a board shaped like your average great-white's afternoon snack, and then hurl yourself into bodies of water where these scary-ass creatures tend to congregate for meal times? Clearly, this is stupid upon stupid: engaging in already-dangerous activities in an environment where you're at a distinct disadvantage (ever tried to move fast in five feet of water?), and then adding into that you're trespassing on the turf of the baddest street gang of the aquatic 'hood (the Sharks, get it?).

It's like my buddy Jeff O. over at Keep Your Coins I Want Change said to me when I was discussing this post with him.

Jaws should have been the shortest movie ever made. They should have seen the shark, gone “oh gee, there's a shark...so who wants to play volley ball instead?” and that should have been it. Approximate running time, five minutes. Fade to black.

If we could just keep it to ourselves, maybe the absurdly high number of shark attacks (more sarcasm) would dwindle to, oh, I don't know, none. There's no real reason why people should ever get attacked by something in the sea. But we keep doing it, and what's more, we make it a pastime.

At least surfing is athletic – what about these rich, bored, upper-middle class tourist clowns who decide that the swim-up bar in the pool of the 5 star resort just isn't interesting enough. No, they want to go into the sea and have a face-to-face encounter with the oldest, most efficient predators on the planet. But in the interest of public safety and of not, you know, having limbs chewed off, they put these over-privileged voyeurs in a big metal cage and lower them into the water – which is, according to the popular conception of sharks as mindless man-eaters, the same thing as keeping the samosas behind glass at the supermarket. Then, the companies that run these thrill-a-minute excursions dump a bunch of fish guts into the water around the cage so the sharks will be attracted and driven into a feeding frenzy, to the great satisfaction of the Tourist Snacks. Sounds kind of neat, right?

Ever heard of a guy called Pavlov? You've heard of his dogs, for sure – the ones trained to salivate at the sound of a bell. It's called behaviour modification and it works by associating certain sensations with certain results. In the case of our friends the Griswolds, the sensation is the fish chow that makes the sharks think it's time to eat – the result is a sharky association between food and fat tourists in the water. Do I need to draw you a picture here?

To bring it back full-circle, the people who dig (dug?) the Crocodile Hunter and who really want to swim with Jaws are the same people who will lose their minds over a few shark attacks and one dead Australian and endorse mass killings of these scary, scary animals. The point is, you can only mess with nature for a certain period of time before nature will turn around and bite you in the ass. You don't need a bigger boat – you need a new hobby.

2 comments:

former child start said...

Jaws was a public service announcement about how stupid people are. Plain and simple. You'd have thought that after that goofy Aussie got snuffed by an uppity fish, people would have learned that maybe pissing off animals in their enviroment is not only a shitty thing to do, but sometimes they fight back and win. It's their turf, leave them the hell alone. It's one thing to fish because you are hungry, it's another to piss off animals because you are a bored rich honkey, in which case, I'm rooting for the shark.

the.frig said...

i'd say you guys both have it a bit wrong. You both would agree that the oceans are not man's domain. Likewise, neither are the lakes, river's and wetlands. From an ecogical perspective(which you admit to subscribe to), man is to live with the plants and animals, not in isolation of them. Death in nature is more realistic than we allow it to be. We have separated ourselves from the natural dangers of the land for millenia, and come to understand nature as a hazard. Maybe if you two were take a couple steps off the asphalt of your cities and fish your own food or gather your own seaweed, you too would understand that nature is not something to be afriad of, but rather something which we should value and respect. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with surfing, diving, or exploring our oceans, so long as the things around us are treated with respect. I beleive that the exploration of our oceans is in fact an honorable undertaking.

Your blog post seems to follow he same basic assumptions of civil society, that we should isolate ourselves from the animal kingdom. We have unnaturally divorced ourselves from the natural workings of the land for far too long. Because of this, we as a people have become and hyper-sensitive to the laws of nature, like tragedy, death, and getting mauled by starving wild boars.

It is obvious you've never been out surfing. It's a helluva time. You should try it sometime. They do sell water-proof diapers.