It’s on display here.
‘Many scientists don’t like to talk about shark sex,’ Juliet Eilperin writes in her entertaining study of sharks and their world. ‘They worry it will only reinforce the popular perception that these creatures are brutish and unrelenting.’ In as far as we understand the subject – only a few species have been observed mating – the business is ‘very rough’. Larger male sharks have to bite or trap the females to keep them around during courtship; marine biologists can tell when a female has been mating because her skin will be raw or bleeding. The process is so violent that, come the mating season, female nurse sharks will stay in shallow water with their reproductive openings pressed firmly to the sea floor. Otherwise they risk falling prey to roaming bands of males who ‘will take turns inserting their claspers in her’ (the clasper is the shark version of a penis, found in a pair behind the pelvic fins). A litter of fifty pups will have anything from two to seven fathers. But the reproductive story gets rougher still. A number of shark species go in for oophagy, or uterine cannibalism. Sand tiger foetuses ‘eat each other in utero, acting out the harshest form of sibling rivalry imaginable’. Only two babies emerge, one from each of the mother shark’s uteruses: the survivors have eaten everything else. ‘A female sand tiger gives birth to a baby that’s already a metre long and an experienced killer,’ explains Demian Chapman, an expert on the subject.
Yet shark attacks are an exotic rarity. There were 75 verified shark attacks last year, and 12 fatalities. Even in the US, a global hotspot, you are forty times more likely to be hospitalised by a Christmas tree ornament than by a shark. Meanwhile, to supply the shark fin soup trade alone, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year.
First of all, I’m always slightly annoyed by their lack of loyalty for Team Humanity. Some may be shocked to hear this, but I would like the fatalities to be a clean 100% on the shark side.
Mostly, though, the thing that irritates me about biologists and anthropologists is that they’re trying to manipulate me rather than teach me. They don’t want me to know things about the predators or cannibals they’re studying because their only goal in communicating with me is political advocacy. All that matters is that I’m supposed to like sharks and support laws to protect them. Somehow the language of “discrimination” and “prejudice” has leaked into the natural sciences. It’s the same thing with medical scientists and health agencies, as I’ve said before when discussing leprosy. They’re not trying to tell me things I want to know–like how to actually avoid catching the disease. All they’re interested in is curing me of my prejudice, teaching me not to fear or shun lepers, say (no matter how rational such behavior might actually be). The effect of all of this is not to shame me into advocating for sharks, lepers, or aborigines. The effect is to make inherently cool subjects boring.
And I’ll admit it–I’m prejudiced against sharks.