The shared space of sharks and humans is regularly reduced to binary oppositions. Us versus them, human life versus shark life, and sharks themselves are reduced to this in terms of commodity and product or tourism experience.
Shark currency is now being argued in conservation terms. As Gallagher and Hammerschlag (2014) have stated, shark currency (deemed to be the non-consumptive use of sharks) is a global phenomena and a multi-billion dollar business. “….A similar pattern is apparent in North America, whereby the Bahamas have enjoyed over 25 years of recreational shark usage. In 2007, divers experienced an estimated 73,000 shark interactions in the Bahamas, generating roughly US$78 million in annual revenue (Cline, 2008; Table 3)”
However, all of this is based on a capitalist model in terms of financial exchange and benefit. Sharks are part of the way nature in general is viewed; it is over there, somewhere on the horizon away from us and as such it is placed on a pedestal or put on a leash or put in the bank. It is not free; it is under a man-made system that sees it at separate from itself. To quote Morton, “The point is to go against the grain of dominant, normative ideas about nature, but to do so in the name of sentient beings suffering under catastrophic environmental conditions” (2007:12).
Humans and sharks impact on each other in a diverse range of ways. Sharks are sometimes highly valued for their ecological and tourist values or are connected to complex cultural practices and belief systems. In other contexts, sharks are feared or loathed or have status attachment as commodities. China and the Solomon Islands have similar yet divergent use for these animals. The Solomon Islanders have a history of revering sharks by worshipping them as ancestor gods (Coddrington, 1881), while Asia is responsible for 52% of all shark catch for the Chinese shark fin soup trade (Worm et al., 2014). An exploration of these diverse ideas about the living and dead value of sharks and how they translate into behaviours of various kinds will be significant.
Scientists are investigating the many implications of declining shark populations and its implications on economy, ecology and even climate change but this discussion is largely held within the scientific community and is not being held in the realm of the general public. “Most large shark species play a top-down predatory role within their respected ecosystems. Although difficult to accurately assess, the problems stemming from the loss of apex predators can be incredibly complex and have catastrophic implications for the marine ecosystem” (Baum et al., 2003 cited in O’Connell et al., 2012). Boris Worm, a Canadian scientist, has put forward a strong case for a shark fishing moratorium similar to the whaling moratorium and has indicated that Asia accounts for 52% of all shark catch. He has also indicated the importance of the human-shark experience of ecotourism and its implications for conservation (Worm et al., 2013).
Furthermore, the investigation of shark currency as pointed out by Gallagher and Hammerschlag (2011) does have positive implications for living sharks as experience and tourist attraction rather than as dead commodities, however, the existence of sharks as independent agents within this interface is not acknowledged. This discussion of the universality of the shared living space of the human-shark interaction needs to be broadened to include the various untold stories of sharks around the world.
Shark, as a word, is loaded with meaning. Shark, as a story, is a prejudicial narrative. In fact, the whole idea of ‘shark’ is often distilled down to two notes of John Williams’ iconic score, ‘da dum, da dum, da dum,dum,dum,dum,” including by children who have never seen the film the music so effectively emphasises. We love our monsters so long as we can slay them, enslave them or make money from them. Their right to exist is not outside the realm of capitalist or commodification theory – it is the way all life is now measured – especially non-human life. What does this mean for sharks? They are paying the price of living in the antropocene with their lives. Their 400 million year history has shaped the way human bodies have evolved. Sharks are responsible for our ability to swallow and breathe, and now, they are what we swallow.
The forces of capitalism and colonisation have brought forth elements of control and a distinct lack of choice and lack of agency and decision-making for non-human animals. While these forces are increasing – the forces of belief and religion are diminishing and this is also having adverse affects on the non-human animal world.
Societies, which revered and protected these animals, have lost much of their faith and we are losing much of the animals. Morton (2010) has stated that ‘religion cries in a green voice’ but the voice is not being heard.