Saturday, October 29, 2016

An Obsession with an Apex Predator

My love of great white sharks started when I watched a certain film about a certain island town being terrorized by a great white shark . . . something about "needing a bigger boat" and that "back home, we got ourselves a taxidermy man - he gonna have a heart attack when he see what I BRUNG 'im!". I am a lover of marine animals: great white shark, octopus and squid, whales (go whale watching very soon - it's quite the adrenaline rush), and manta rays/stingrays. Although the planet Earth is 70% covered in water, a great portion of it has not been explored. Scientists are constantly discovering marine animals that were either thought to be mere legend, or something new and completely different (not Monty Python).

(photo from National Geographic)

So it was that, while talking with someone dear to me (I call him Viking - long story), I told him about a recent CNN video regarding a caged diver and a great white shark. He claimed he'd already seen it. I was entranced by what took place in the video. If you want to see it, click HERE.

Seeing that video reignited my passion for great whites and soon, I was off to the library to check out the book The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey. Casey explains how, while being ill, she watched a documentary regarding the Farallones, thirty miles west of San Francisco, and the great whites that repeatedly traveled there. Soon, she began her obsession with the apex predator and the beginning of her travels to the islands. Known as the Devil's Teeth, they are stretches of rock that are hard to travel to, a source of terrible weather that will wreak havoc on any boat, and did I mention the sharks? In her book, Casey talks of her times with biologists and fellow lovers of sharks Peter Pyle and Scott Anderson and their discoveries regarding the affectionately named sharks (the girls were of the Sisterhood and the boys were of the Rat Pack). While studying them, Casey and the biologists stayed in a 120 year old house, complete with strange phenomenon and a ghostly woman, cannibalistic gulls (that section made me cringe), seals that often met their doom in a rush of blood, and "anus" flies. Don't ask - just look them up. They're real.

(Farallones - photo by Jan Roletto)

One part that I would like to bring up is how Casey and her fellow shark lovers felt more at home in the "wilds" of the islands, yet felt constricted by modern society. I found myself thinking back to all my adventures and how I felt more alive then than being in a corporate office, or in line at a fast food place. When I traveled to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, that was the first time I'd ever been in a desert. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time - one wrong step, one moment of looking at my camera more than my current location, and I would have been wandering the desert with no water. Out in the desert or in a boat staring into the face (and mouth) of a great white shark, one can't help but feel a bit insignificant. And yet, at the same time, we also can't help but feel honoured to be able to appreciate such beauty, even if it comes in the form of a seal being killed by an apex predator.

Sharks are strange creatures, yet terribly fascinating. Casey and the biologists experience a world so foreign yet so close to modern civilization, and her experiences will make you want to discover this world for yourself. Hell, within minutes of beginning the book, I was already looking up the Farallones and considering joining their Society. Casey's writing is a mixture of journalistic integrity and "holy shit, did you SEE that?" She has no qualms writing about the plumbing problems on the yacht Just Imagine that was later lost and was discovered floating far away, nor about the mysterious blood found in the boat the next day after a night of high winds. Or getting covered in bird droppings. Or not bathing for weeks and being proud of the grime under her fingernails. Casey writes her experiences and "gives" them to you. You can't help but be right next to her, wondering if perhaps Stumpy will ever show.

The Devil's Teeth has reinforced my love for sharks by 158% - if I ever had a chance to see one in their natural habitat, I would truly do it. After reading this book, you WILL need a bigger boat. .  . .


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