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Shark Attack in Murawai- A Case of ‘Mistaken Identity’

Shark Attack in Murawai- A Case of ‘Mistaken Identity’

By Christopher von Roy

Condolences to the family, of course.

What a tragedy. So very sad. But think about it, how often do you mourn the victims of traffic accidents or drowning or freak yachting incidents for that matter? Not very often, or you would be constantly in a state of mourning and that isn’t healthy. How about people that die whilst falling over in the bathtub? All of those scenarios happen in greater multitude in our world than attacks by sharks. How about the hundreds of thousands of sharks slaughtered off our coasts every year? Have you ever shed a tear for a dead shark?

Perhaps this shark attack off the coast of Muriwai is symbolic. It may just be a coincidence, but the New Zealand Parliament will be sitting down to review its archaic stance on the practice of shark finning in our waters. Shark finning is the barbaric practice humans have developed whereby the fisherman chops the pectoral, dorsal, caudal, pelvic and anal fins off of a shark, after which the body is dumped back into the water, where the animal faces a long-lasting and crucially agonising, death. The process can take up to eight hours and the shark faces a dual death sentence, both bleeding and drowning to death. For eight hours this animal could be lying on the bottom of the sea bed, disorientated and writhing in agony.

The only thing that protects sharks in New Zealand is the Animal Welfare Act; this requires no torture to be performed on any living being in the country. That may all be well and good, but I think we all know that what happens out in the waters, two miles off the coast, it’s like Vegas out there. Do you know how hard it is to kill a shark? Very. To think that modern fisheries would employ sophisticated killing technology in order to streamline the killing process of sharks is disturbing. And with traditional ‘weaponry’ aboard a run-of-the-mill fishing vessel, it would take a long time to effectively kill a shark (stop it’s heart from beating). The sheer volume of sharks that these ships bring in on any given day would make this process laborious lest to say very inefficient. Needless to say then, the toleration of ‘finning’ as a means to extract monetary return on sharks that exists here, facilitates the abuse of the Animal Welfare Act, in terms of torture to the animal. Practice and theory are two different concepts, often at complete odds with one another. So the process happens here. Why? To feed people a meal that has a more status-driven reasoning behind it than any form of nutritional or even medicinal value? Are these values that resonate with you?

Personally I find it quite shocking that we are doing this to an endangered genus of animals.

500 million years is a very long time to have survived on planet Earth. As a casual point of reference, Homo sapiens in their current morphology have been on the planet for a mere 20 thousand years. That’s one ten thousandth of the time we have been walking around bipedally whilst our cousins, the largest fish that ever lived, have been swimming gracefully around our planet’s oceans unfazed at our very existence. Think about it. We were monkeys when sharks were already here. They silently observed the disappearance of the dinosaurs and then bore witness to the evolution of our species; the collapse of one whole order of apex animals and the birth of another. This juxtaposition is quite apt, for the demise of this incredible family of animals is near. We are at an actual tipping point for sharks. We humans are about to upend half a billion years of evolution in just one hundred, years. Sharks are now on our radar and on our dinner menus.

Our brains have become more complex as we evolve. Not so with sharks. Their brains have remained relatively the same size for the last 500 million years, this could be a key to long term survival of species, as it has been proven that increasing brain matter and intelligence actually runs contrary to overall survival potential. It seems counter intuitive but it’s true, our frontal lobes developed and so did our cranial capacity. We developed empathy and compassion as by products, but we also learned how to manipulate our environment and literally changed the face of the earth.
The anthropocene era - Earth dominated by humans, equilibrium upset. Global warming, pollution, species extinction, all these things have come about from our incessant desire to dominate the planet. We have upset the balance and if sharks are eradicated the entire food chain will suffer. Not just oceans, but coastal and eventually mainland. Everything on Earth is tangibly related to everything else. A delicate balance is being rocked to death.

We have to change our behaviour. And maybe we have to start by changing our nomenclature, what we call the animal. The word ‘shark’ derives from the Middle English word ‘shurke’ which translates to as much as an ‘unreliable or irresponsible person’. In the German language, the word ‘Schurke’ still exists and refers to a similar meaning as the Middle English. Our subliminal collective consciousness has a negative association with the term. Even before the animal had been named.

So how about a new name? Perhaps we need to petition taxonomists. The term ‘dolphin’ is a phonetically soothing word. It all starts with words. They create images and illusions that don’t necessarily reflect reality.

Perhaps the one silver lining that could be drawn from this tragedy is the response from the victim’s friends and family who said that he “would have been upset that the shark which is thought to have claimed his life was shot and probably killed, despite it being necessary in order to recover his body.”

Sharks don’t prey on humans, they are not savages. It’s a case of mistaken identity. It’s a tragedy when someone dies because of mistaken identity, but let’s not forget our place when we enter the water. It’s a wild world out there. Entering the waters at our own risk is a choice.

Sharks don’t have this choice.


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