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Another shark attack in Hawaii: Is it revenge for shark fin soup?

August 19, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • A surfer and a diver wear wetsuits designed to make them less vulnerable to shark attacks.
A surfer and a diver wear wetsuits designed to make them less vulnerable… (Shark Attack Mitigation…)

Just when you thought “Shark Week” was over …

Seems the folks in Hawaii are experiencing real-life reruns of the Discovery Channel’s popular week of shows on the toothy denizens of the deep. On Sunday, a shark attacked a Big Island surfer. That came fresh on the heels of an attack on a German tourist off Maui on Wednesday; she lost an arm. And that makes eight attacks in Hawaiian waters this year, according to my colleague John M. Glionna.

Now, true confession time: I watched quite a bit of “Shark Week.” (Not “Sharknado,” though; I still have some standards).

But I now know, for instance, that bull sharks are more dangerous than great whites because bull sharks eat anything: license plates, people, fish, seals, birds -- well, you get the idea. I know that sharks attack in shallow water. I know that sharks chomp surfboards -- and surfers -- in part, experts think, because they look like seals when seen from below.

And, of course, I know that sharks are everywhere in the ocean, and that the fact that there are amazingly few attacks on humans shows that sharks don’t really favor us as food.

And none of that makes me less afraid of sharks.

In Hawaii, the locals are blasé. As Maui Fire Department Capt. Jeff Giesea told Glionna:

“The sharks are always out there. We’ll go along for months at a time and nothing happens, and then we’ll get one, two and three.

“My perspective is that there is a lot of randomness in the world, and it’s easy to try and superimpose order on that.”

Which is pretty darn philosophical for a fire department captain. But he’s not the only one taking a live-and-let-live-and-hope-I-don’t-get-eaten approach:

“I heard guys talking about the attacks yesterday. They were thinking about going for a swim at an area beach,” he told The Times. “It didn’t stop them.

“I don’t get the impression that residents are freaked out about this. Some people are looking for an explanation, and maybe there is a reason to be found. But it also could be just chance you take swimming in waters you know have sharks in them.”

So why this irrational fear of -- and fascination with -- sharks and shark attacks? After all, it’s the sharks getting the short end in this world, with an estimated 73 million killed each year just for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup (not in California, though, where that’s been banned).

Probably it reflects man’s most primal fear: The fear of being eaten alive. After all, our ancient ancestors may have had bigger brains, but they weren’t the fastest, or the strongest, or the keenest of eye or smell. A lot of them got munched. And I’m pretty sure it’s not a pleasant way to go.

So you guys in Maui go ahead and be blasé. Me? I’m gonna take a break from the ocean.

Who knows. Maybe those sharks have gotten together and decided they’re tired of being soup fodder.


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