“Sharks have everything a scientist dreams of. They’re beautiful―God, how beautiful they are! They’re like an impossibly perfect piece of machinery. They’re as graceful as any bird. They’re as mysterious as any animal on earth.” – Peter Benchley (Jaws)
In “Shark: Travels through a hidden world”, author Juliet Eilperin examines the relationship between mankind and one of the most feared predators on earth.
In the early chapters, Eilperin explores how traditional communities such as one she visits in Papua New Guinea, continue to revere sharks and place them at the centre of day to day life. In these communities “shark callers” are granted elevated social status due to their ability to catch the predators.
In stark contrast, the book looks at the recreational shark fishing practices carried out in the western world. One Miami resident, Mark “the Shark” Quartiano, makes a living taking people out to catch sharks. Quartiano sees little wrong with his job, but does acknowledge it’s getting increasingly difficult to catch sharks off the Atlantic coast.
Despite their distinct motivations and methodology, both Mark and the Papua New Guinea shark callers benefit from the fascination linked to the animal. A fascination which is proving disastrous for the long-term survival of the species.
Shark fin soup remains remains a much sought after dish in China, despite the meat being tasteless and potentially noxious. Research carried out by WildAid found that fins contain up to forty times more mercury than thought fit for human consumption. The book explores the shark fin supply chain and gathers a number of points of view from various shark fin vendors, chefs and lobbies. The section paints a bleak picture for the future of wild sharks.
Another element which draws Eliperin’s attention are the scientists and researchers whose lives revolve around studying sharks. She tags along with a number of them in several chapters, which serve to highlight just how little we know about the predator. Recent advances, such as electronic tagging, have provided behavioural data which directly contradicts much of what was generally accepted as fact as little as a decade ago.
She also briefly touches on the oft ignored theme of shark reproduction. One scientist admits that the lack of public discussion on the topic stems from the act’s sheer brutality. Some male sharks often grasp females with their teeth, resulting in impressive lacerations. In addition, some shark pups devour their siblings whilst in the womb, and consequently emerge as fully formed predators. Although this type of behaviour does little for the shark’s public image, it does provide a fascinating insight into one of history’s most successful predators.
All in all a great book for those looking for insight into the interactions between sharks and humans, both across the globe and through the ages. Littered with interesting stories, statistics and various points of view, Shark will serve as a real eye-opener for anyone unconvinced about the need to keep the species alive.
Shark: Travels through a hidden world was written by Juliet Eilperin and is available to purchase here.
Michele Martinelli is a London based writer, you can follow him on @Greatbites.