Would you swim with white sharks in open water?
The other day we invited over a friend, who works as a documentary producer at the BBC. Needless to say, I was over the moon and eager to ask him one thousand questions.
At some point, our conversation took an exciting u-turn, and he told us about that time that he dived with bull sharks somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. To bring you into the action, as the shark populations are fed in that area, they peacefully approach the divers in hopes of receiving treats. When our friend's group reached the seabed at the 16 meters, they all sat on the sand, with their backs to each other, and began to press an empty plastic bottle in hopes to attract proverbial sharks. After some tortuous waiting, a small group of around ten bull sharks emerged from the deep blue and approached them with friendly intentions. At some point, and I shudder only by remembering his narration, two sharks approached his face in about a meter of distance before they swam away again. The description of such an experience provokes a magical combination of enthusiasm and fear. In my question, however, if he felt the same, he answered that not so much. "Certainly your whole system is flooded with adrenaline, let alone if you have two sets of jaws, full of sharp scalpels so close to your face, but the fear was absent in my case. Most of the time, you know, our dives are exploratory. You shine dark holes, hoping for a sea turtle or a moray. You hunt bits of adventure, and this causes bursts of adrenaline. But this time it was different; this experience was the closest I have done to meditation. Hearing only the sound of your heartbeat, and seeing these magnificent creatures gliding so harmoniously into the volume of water, were the fastest and most enjoyable 20 minutes of my life. "
And then the big announcement hit us, out of the blue (see what I did here?). He said he wants to swim with white sharks, to which statement my utterly impulsive roommate agreed. And wait for the best part, they want to so without the usage of a protective cage. In case you are thinking, well why not, let me enlighten you; white sharks are the largest carnivorous fish that roam the seas of this planet and can reach eight to ten meters in length during adulthood. Basically, I would never pull the trigger and swim with a white shark six times my size, because this is simply not my preferable way to immigrate to Neverland. And to clarify something, sharks are not the demonized predators that humans present them to be. Only ten to fifteen people are killed each year by shark attacks, primarily due to human errors. Mostly sharks bite out of curiosity and urge to explore their environment. Now, obviously, if anyone surpasses their personal space, puts them into danger, or if they are extremely hungry, they have a reason to attack with full force and turn their prey into fish food.
Needless to say, I respect and admire the fine artwork that nature put in, such creatures are the caryatids of the marine ecosystems of our planet, and I want to learn from such artwork. If a natural swimmer and prey of the sharks, i.e., a seal, would swim openly in the presence of white sharks, it would be an attempted suicide! So what makes us believe that we even stand the slightest chance? Is total ignorance of danger that would fuel such an action, or is it the overconfidence that since we study the behavior of these creatures, we can fully, also, predict their actions? Or is it something completely different that leads such a Russian roulette of a game that has risky divers becoming waif of the intentions of a product of millions of years of evolution and sovereignty over the ocean bodies? I followed the stream of my consciousness to pinpoint what drives the urge to swim alongside these magnificent creatures without any safety net, and here´s what I came up with.
Personally, I would ascribe this reckless decision on the distance we have created in our everyday life with nature, and how much we seek a genuine and unfiltered connection with it. The Western way of living has imposed the totalitarian, often, alienation from nature, by urbanizing the lifestyles that we hold so dear in the cement cages that we call homes. The only contact with wildlife for a lot of city mice out there are the hordes of pigeons attacking sandwich crumbles in the park. Having created this artificial, plastic world around us, where everything is subject to our demands, we ended up in a stagnant situation where our words and actions are almost entirely redeemable. Thus, the fact that each of us treats his desires as if they are the center stars of our solar system, it is not totally unheard of; the end justifies the means, isn´t so? I noticed that the more "civilized" our lives become, with the side-higher-products, such as fine arts, philosophy, and science, the more we crave at the expense of our planet's balance. Such a demanding society pyramidal structure conflicts to meet its specialized requirements unless it establishes a base that voluntary or not satisfies all sorts of irrational demands. While the pyramid's base sinks under the weight of such operations, the top of the pyramid loses contact with the nature of its needs and the impact of its desires.
Several "non-civilized", in their majority, civilizations reconciled with their inability to move the yarns of nature, with the very recent example of the natives of North America, and some of the most sincere words that have ever been said about the arrogance of white people at the expense of nature. The Si’ahl chief (later renamed Seattle) of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh tribe expressed a sincere cry of ecological consciousness to the governor and Indian Area Affairs Commissioner Isaac Stevens when he was asked to deliver his land to white "brothers," centuries before people of the West started to worry about the ecological impact of their lifestyle. Si’ahl talks of the consciousness that must bear the backs of the arrogance of the privileged people of this world; we are a fiber of the web of life and not the entire web. This realization gives birth to a sense of the preciousness of our motherland, and our responsibility to respect it; a personal affair and therefore a political issue too.
And I quote his words below:
"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family. [...]
So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great White Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. This shining water that moves in streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is the sacred blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events in the life of my people. The waters murmur is the voice of my father’s father. [...]
The rivers of our brothers they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember to teach your children that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness that you would give my brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The Earth is not his brother, but his enemy and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the Earth from his children, and he does not care. [...] His appetite will devour the Earth and leave behind only a desert. [...] I do not know. Our ways are different from yours. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.
There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring or the rustle of an insect’s wings. But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to live if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night. I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleansed by a midday rain or scented with the pinon pine."
To wrap it up, and answer my own question, swimming next to such giant creatures could be a cry for establishing the contact we had with nature, and sacrificed for the joys and benefits of our culture, and a way of spiritual fullness. Also, indisputably it must generate the sobering realization of one´s weakness to impose on them unless they are imprisoned or dead. Such moments surpass the subtleties of beauty and efficiency as we manufactured them to satisfy our needs and desires.
Possibly. But who am I to know, I am a humble biologist after all.
What is your view on this issue? Do I have this question since I was a kid and woke up again in my other day? I would be very interested to hear you too.
Credits | Text: Despina Kortesidou, Poster: Petition to change shark culling laws poster