National Geographic : 2000 Apr
hour-for the privilege of walking by and see ing and smelling and touching the sad and sorry corpse of this single animal. To be sure, she was impressive: about 18 feet long, 3,000 pounds, a robust, mature female with teeth two inches long and dark, impen etrable eyes. Child after child, adult after adult touched the shark not only with their finger tips but with their entire hands, as if to com mune with the great creature. They were not afraid; they were awed, almost reverent. For years after the movie version of laws exploded into the public consciousness, I was asked why I thought it had had such an impact. I had no answer beyond the obvious: People have always been terrified of sharks, of deep water, and of the unknown, and this story touched all those nerves. Then, a few years ago, I came across some words by Harvard sociobiologist E. O.Wilson. "We're not just afraid of predators," he wrote, "we're transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them, because fascination They all wanted to know what had killed her. What could kill her? Children especially wanted to know why, why would anyone kill such an animal? The answer to what had killed the shark was depressingly banal. "A longline" said John Keesing, then SARDI's chief scientist. "A fisher man had set out a longline to catch snapper, and she happened upon it. She got hooked, and in trying to get away, she wrapped herself up in the rope. When it came taut, she couldn't move. She drowned." Like many sharks, she had to keep moving to flush oxygen-rich water over her gills. Longlines are among the most insidious killers in the sea, for they kill indiscriminately, old or young, pregnant or not, endangered or not. In the open ocean some longlines stretch for 80 miles and contain thousands of hooks. Unlike some fishermen, the man who caught this shark obeyed the law, notified the proper authorities, and even brought the body to shore. He had requested that he be given creates preparedness, and THEY DELIVER A DEVASTATING BITE preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters." True enough. I, trans fixed, had woven stories and fables. And here were these men, women, and children-soaking, cold, and tired-gathered in what was definitely a kind of love for this monster. In a life or death struggle, a South African fur seal (top) twists out of the water to escape a lunging great white at False Bay, South Africa. "These duels are like aerial dog fights except that only the heavy, slower jet is armed," explains Rocky Strong, a California-based researcher. "The little guy can only fly defensively." Nearby, a wounded fur seal (bottom) will likely be finished off soon.