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Friday, October 19, 2007

"...and it wasn't Jack the Ripper! It was a shark."


My Google news alert since May has been “shark attack”. Almost every day a link appears in my inbox transporting me to tales of worst case scenarios and near misses. Night swimming attacks, surfers loosing a chunk out of their boards, a kayaker beating away ten foot great white with her paddle. Sometimes they feature a photo of the bite just before stitching – before the swelling really kicks in. Sharks have all kinds of nasty stuff in their mouths and infection can be deadly even after surviving the initial attack, or at least I heard that at some point during shark week like seven years ago. Then, a few days after I see the news story, I make sure the folks at Global Shark Attack File saw it too by opening up The Incident Log.

The list begins in 1845 and attempts to chronicle every incident since then and what happens when people and shark teeth meet. It is morbidly fascinating. I highly recommend downloading the Excel file (www.sharkattackfile.net/incidentlog.htm). This summer I was particularly fascinated by an attack involving a group of twenty-something’s out for a night swim in the phosphorescence. A few Florida college kids take a dingy out an anchored sail boat just outside of the light from shore. The moon is full, the ocean is glowing green with trails that amplify as hands and feet kick through the water, disturbing the bioluminescence. See the photo and use your imagination as to what happen next.

But, I’ve always been interested in science. Junior year in high school I told my Earth Science teacher that I planned to study parapsychology in college. It took ten minutes for us both to realize that I actually meant comparative psychology. But, that career goal ended when I discovered it wasn’t all just teaching chimps how to use sign language – there were a lot of mazes and sometimes cruel problem solving involved. I blame public television for misrepresentation of the sciences by making every bioengineer and astrophysicist look like Indiana Jones. At least they looked that way to me. I was (still am) a giant dork after all, so my perceptions of cool have always been skewed. But, you should have seen this nondescript college kid’s eyes light up when she said she’d have some really cool scars when the bites healed. She never even got a look at the fish.