Popularity Contests Some Will Never Win

05SharksPeople@Thomas P. Peschak

Whale shark. (Thomas Peschak / University of Chicago Press)

We note from time to time the tallies of our most popular posts and writers. Seth still has the record for “most instantaneously viral” with Volcano Sandboarding (3,000+ views in the first couple days after it was posted); Tim’s Carbon Emissions Series: Vacationers’ Diets is by far the most viewed with nearly 9,000 readers to date; Salim is by far the most widely read of our contributors, just having passed the 50,000 mark for views of his daily series on the natural and cultural heritage of south India (Thiruvathira Kali (Traditional dance of Kerala) being the most popular with nearly 3,000 views).

Phil’s most recent post has been a runaway hit, and rapidly approaching 1,000 views within a couple weeks it is on pace to put him in the ranks of our most popular contributors.  So when we saw the photo above, we thought of Phil’s series with the hope he contributes another post soon. Dr. Tenner’s book review, from which that photo comes, provides an essential reminder of facts, as well as visual testament to the beauties and tragedies associated with sharks, to counter whatever perverse attention those Shark Week shows purvey:

…Thomas Peschak makes an eloquent visual case for the sublimity of sharks—and also for their conservation. He notes that the media still devotes far more attention to rare shark attacks than to the urgent need to protect them from human depredation, especially the shark fin trade. He might have noted that Peter Benchley, who became wealthy through the 1970s novel and film Jaws, regretted the fear he had sown and became a shark advocate. In the long run, though, China’s removal of Mao Tse-Tung’s ban on shark fin soup as bourgeois decadence in 1987 may have resulted in more shark slaughter than all the horror books, films, and news items together. Great conservation photography like Peschak’s, one must hope, will have the power to change attitudes globally…

Credit: Thomas P. Peschak/www.thomaspeschak.com

A white shark follows a researcher in a sea kayak off South Africa’s southwest coast. (Thomas Peschak / University of Chicago Press)

The book, as this review suggests, is an argument in favor of better understanding, in the interest of conservation as these selected quotes demonstrate:

…Despite our fears, sharks are among the most negligible threats to human life. As the dust jacket of the award-winning National Geographic contributing photographer Thomas P. Peschak’s new book, Sharks & People: Exploring Our Relationship With the Most Feared Fish in the Sea, points out, fewer than a half dozen humans are killed each year by sharks, while we have been slaughtering 38 million of them annually. But sharks are radically different from the other animals that occasionally prey on us. In the fiercest lions, tigers, and leopards we can recognize the kin of beloved house cats, in wolf packs the wild ancestors of dogs. (The Orthodox Christian monks of New Skete have even developed a controversial dog training technique, the alpha roll, based on supposed wolf pack leader dominance tactics.) Grizzly bears can sometimes seem deceptively human until it’s too late, as the filmmaker Werner Herzog documented in Grizzly Man. And the young of all these mammalian species can be playful companions to humans until the animals reach adolescence….

A book review that illuminates shark science by channeling Daniel Kahneman makes us smile:

…Protecting sharks, it should be added, is in our own self-interest. Like other apex predators, they keep in check the intermediate predators, like cownosed rays, that endanger our fisheries. And the Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman has observed that even in attacking people, sharks paradoxically have saved human lives. For every swimmer killed by a shark off San Diego, 10 other lives were saved by fear of going in the water, until the scare was over.

We might never love sharks, we may fear them rationally, but above all we must respect them. They are sublime.

Read the whole book review here.

One thought on “Popularity Contests Some Will Never Win

  1. Pingback: Majestic and misunderstood: new in bookstores | Call of the Siren

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