Animal Studies Bibliography
Crawford, Dean. 2008. Shark. Reaktion Books.
(Summarized by Haley Walker, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)
In the introduction and first three chapters of Shark, Dean Crawford makes readers aware of both the unique biological characteristics that define sharks, and he presents an analysis and the timeline that have served to shape and develop the human perception of these creatures. Crawford introduces readers to sharks by weaving of scientific facts with historical and cultural trends of how humans viewed and interacted with the animals throughout the past decades. The first half of this book lays a foundation for the more critical analysis and further discussion about the future of this animal that are featured in the latter three chapters of this work.
All sharks are cannibals (8). Additionally, female sharks have the ability to suppress hunger after they give birth, so they don’t eat their young (8). Many sharks are also Oviphagous, meaning they can eat their siblings in the womb. White sharks look as if they are grinning, when seen from the front (8), and the animal’s eyes often roll into the back of their sockets when taking bites, leaving them to resemble a “zombie in a narcotic state” (11). These natural features are just a few of those aiding in the development of how humans view them, according to Crawford. Consequently, there are a variety of emotions that are stimulated surrounding the fear of sharks. These include “avoidance, pugnaciousness, reverence, and awe” (10). Often, feelings of fear manifest themselves in a number of ways. For Peter Gimbrel, a documentary filmmaker and cage diver, the fear came in the form of dreams about them. He recounts a nightmare about being in the open ocean and envisioning a great white shark speeding toward him (9). According to Crawford, it is a manifestation of fear that many of us share (9).
Throughout the introduction of Shark, the author often refers to sharks as being “monsters” in the eyes of humans. For many reasons, including their seemingly “ferocious” characteristics, the creatures are considered “a challenge to love” (7), as is the task of finding reason and care about their plight. The answer to this question may be found in “longevity,” or the ability of sharks to continue to exist and evolve over many centuries.
However, humans present a significant threat to this defining characteristic. Both industrial fishing and shark finning for soups commonly made in Asia, are human actions that endanger them (12). There are 4 major dates that have been pinned as being particularly influential in creating both the perception of sharks. These include: the year 1916, when the American media creates public hysteria over a series of shark attacks, 1945, when the USS Indianapolis sinks and many survivors are said to have been eaten by sharks, 1975, when the movie Jaws was released, and 1987, when the Chinese authorities dubbed Shark fin soup as “politically correct” (13). However, not only is their longevity a reason to preserve them, but also they have a particular meaning to the stability of ecosystems and the food chain (12). They are often considered “scavengers of the sea,” collecting and consuming the carcasses of dead animals (14). Crawford begs the question, “Who can predict the environmental consequences if all our oceans are purged of sharks?”
“A Timeless Design”
In the first chapter, Crawford describes the seemingly enduring nature of the shark. There is evidence of sharks existing more than 130 million years ago and continuing to evolve today (21). Their history and evolution is both longer and more varied than that of Homo sapiens, which are much less so and thus, more susceptible to threats and diseases (21). They seem to have an “evolutionary past” of which we as humans simply cannot compare.
Perhaps the reason for their longevity is their great variety that exists within the species and ability to evolve uniquely. Bull sharks can adapt to both fresh and saltwater habitat. To support this ability, they have the novel ability to adjust urea content in the blood to maintain balance in the kidneys (25). Tiger Sharks have been known to consume practically everything, including a suit of armor in the eighteenth century (36). Corkscrew sharks take circular bites out of their prey (22), and the basking shark has the world’s largest liver (45).
As a specific demonstration of one shark’s evolutionary process, Goblin sharks have a sword protruding from its forehead for protection. They have also been referred to as vampires “in need of some kind of orthodontia (44)” and a “prehistoric survivor (44).” Crawford writes, “What’s astonishing about sharks is not their ferocity, but their diversity.”
Examining the species as a whole, a major characteristic that sets sharks apart from other creatures is their incredibly sensitive sensory perceptions. For example, many have sensors that detect the degree of hardness or toughness. If the object of interest is too bony or doesn’t have enough fat, the shark’s sensors will tell them it may not be the effort (30). The Ampullae of Lorenzini are jelly-filled pores that allow for the detection of electrical energy created by movements. It allows them to align themselves and follow the earth’s magnetic field (31). In white sharks, these sensors exist on the tips of their noses. Similarly, the lateral line system of a shark allows them to sense pressure and vibrations. Oceanic Whitetips use this heightened sense of awareness to detect sound and movement 80 miles away (36).
Their reproductive systems also set them apart from many other species. Male sharks are not needed to reproduce (34). It is a genetic ability that may be another reason for their long history. Even Aristotle has even been known to write about the reproduction of these creatures (34).
The advanced nature of these creatures and their unique characteristics set them apart from both humans and other species. These features may be what have allowed them to be considered “timeless.”
“Deities and Demons”
Despite the fact that the Western view of the shark has been deeply grounded in fear, many other cultures have made these creatures entities of worship. Chapter 2, “Deities and Demons” cites the Polynesians in Papa New Guniea who pray to a shark God known as Kauhuhu
(47). The Hawaiians had nine gods and demigods (49). Divers in Sri Lanka often use shark charmers to protect them the day before they dive (52).
The practice of these creatures becoming engrained in cultures across the globe has also however, allowed them to be vulnerable to power struggles with human emotion, nature, and ego. “Shark calling” has been a long established practice in Papa New Guinea, where men ride into the ocean on canoes, lure sharks with a rattle and then club them. The practice is said to be a sign of manhood and courage (52). Similarly, the Hawaiians have also been known to fight sharks with weapons made from shark teeth and bones (57). It was seen as “skill” and “resourcefulness” if a human could win over a shark in a fight (57). These interactions are not unique to just between the human and shark. The desire for human dominance over animals has a long history in human-animal interaction.
Sharks have also been given human expression and emotion. For instance, the idea of “Shark-Men,” a being who turned regular weather conditions into harsher ones, emerged from Japanese mythology (54). Other Pacific cultures have similar figures. In Hawaii, a story exists of a man who warns people on the beaches not to swim. The man turns into a shark and eats whoever doesn’t heed his warnings (55). Throughout the time cultures have been including the shark in their stories, the uniquely human idea of morality and “good and evil” has also been inserted into the perception of these creatures. They have often been associated with human-like qualities (55).
A particularly common theme in storytelling surrounding this animal is their supposed connection to shipwrecks and maritime disasters. Sharks have thought to eat survivors of the Indianapolis, the Nova Scotia, and the Laconia (63). Perhaps however it wasn’t sharks instant desire for human flesh, but rather that the survivors of these wreaks were simply too vulnerable for too long, Crawford argues (69).
“Our Sensational Imaginations”
Sharks have also long been used as inspirational creatures throughout a number of mediums, besides early storytelling and mythology. In literature, fine art and cinema, sharks have often been the focus of inspiration for creative expression, past just myths and stories. Chapter 3 “Our Sensational Imaginations,” further discusses how the products of artists’ imaginations have contributed to a general consensus of fear. From Hemingway to Spielberg, the shark has been used as subjects of terror. Two early depictions of this discourse can be found in the fine artwork of Singleton Copley and Winslow Horner (70). Herman Melville used sharks in the famous Moby Dick as well. His work also brought up the symbolism between “whiteness” and sharks, when Moby Dick was created as an albino sperm whale (73). In animals, the color is generally meant to represent “haunting and evil” (73).
Perhaps the largest work setting the tone for contemporary human and shark interaction was Jaws. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a remake of Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel (75). Continuing with the meaning of “white” for animals, the plot of Jaws focused on a monster, “white” shark (77). The production had many effects in addition to simply terrorizing people.
Among these effects was to incite great interest in shark fishing (75). The film was riddled with Hollywood effects, including the conclusion, where a policeman shot an oxygen bottle that was stuck in the shark’s mouth and killed him. Not only was the plot dramatized, but also was the portrayal of the animal and it’s actions. Time has allowed sequels to the original film, such as Jaws 2, Blood Surf, and Spring Break Shark Attacks, to become even further sensationalized (83).
Aggrandizement of sharks has been known outside Hollywood however. Hemingway’s depiction of sharks in Islands in the Stream has also been criticized for representing them more dramatically than reality (77). Additionally, the shark in Copley’s painting “Watson and the Shark” is considered to be “drawn from the imagination,” according to Crawford (93). The shark’s eyes, color and “shapely lips” in the painting have all been criticized (91). Early naturalists Ulisse Aldrovandi and Konrad Gesner also both had fanciful demonstrations of the creatures (94).
Edgar Allen Poe and American author Robert Stone depicted the animals with more realism (80). The 2003 film Open Water also used real sharks, which allowed them to be depicted more accurately than the typical production (85).
Most recently, the modern art of Damien Hirst, is perhaps the most accurate example of shark anatomy, in particular. He uses actual sharks as objects of art. In The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, he suspends a four-meter Tiger Shark in formaldehyde. Crawford calls this realism (91).
The images resulting from the creativity of artists have contributed significantly to the thoughts and attitude toward them. Despite the realities of these animals, such as their wide variety and unique characteristics, art holds weight in the transformation and manipulation of contemporary rhetoric about the creatures.