Sharks, much like crocodiles, terrify humans. There is something quite petrifying about being dragged to your death in a big set of teeth whilst being unable to breathe. Perhaps we fear these creatures because they are so at home in the water, while we are quite literally out of our depth.
Sharks in Cape Town are an omnipresent shadow under the waves, the stuff of surfers’ nightmares. I have heard many surfers say that they prefer not to think about the sharks at all; as if in denial. Yes, a surfer looks like a seal from below but the odds of being killed by a falling coconut is still a more likely occurrence.
The great white got a bad rep in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and has since been regarded as a creature of horror. However, this apex predator is a vital part of the food chain. If we lose the great white then we will have to start culling Cape fur seals – and guaranteed someone is going to have something to say about that.
But let’s actually talk about sharks. Did you know that the whale shark is the largest shark in the sea? I remember my first experience swimming with one: it changed my perception of elephants forever. They are enormous! Then we get the bashful shyshark, which covers its eyes with its tail when it is scared; and the blacktip shark, which moves vertically in water columns instead of horizontally. This is just a taste of what I learnt at Save our Seas from the factual fortune cookies that were handed out at #goodsharkkarma day on Clifton Beach. It was not all about the sharks with the toothiest grin, but about the ones without a lot of media coverage.
The volunteers combed the beach, handing out tokens of karma with a toothy twist – inspiring wide-eyed children with their #goodsharkkarma and creating an Instagram storm one bindi at a time. There was also a watery display by Thomas Peschak, whose powerful images showed the plight of the shark. As much as Asia needs to change their beliefs about rhino horns, they also need to change their taste for shark fin soup.
#Goodsharkkarma day was about changing peoples’ perceptions of this apex predator and if burning some incense makes you feel a little safer stepping into the ocean, good for you!
However, the people from Save Our Seas were so passionate, I could not help but wonder if the sharks had done something really good in their 400 million years on the planet to have such good karma on their side.