Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere in Patagonia, you’ve witnessed the hype. Shark fever has gripped the world, and every time a swimmer or surfer even gets looked at sideways by a shark it becomes front page news. Facts are facts. Shark stories get lots of attention, and the media loves attention. So the stories keep coming, and the scarier and more vicious the better. Demonizing sharks is easy and it’s become big business for newspapers, blogs, TV networks, and anyone who makes a living off of sensationalism and selling advertising.
On the other end of the spectrum are dolphins. The media just loves dolphins, and why not? Unlike the menacing, toothy grin that sharks exhibit, dolphins sport a wide, gregarious smile. They are smart and bubbly and oh so photogenic. People love them too. Tourists flock to resorts where they can swim with the aquatic mammals at their leisure. Anecdotes abound about how helpful and engaging dolphins are, with all kinds of people telling stories about being saved from drowning or being protected from a group of hungry sharks. There are even stories about dolphins helping out beached whales, so they must be friendly, right?
Not so fast.
Every once in a while, a story pops onto the radar screen that flies in the face of conventional wisdom and refutes what we all know and hold as true. And recently, some surprising information has come to light, information that calls to question our rigidly held beliefs about both sharks and dolphins, information indicating that sharks aren’t always as naughty, and dolphins aren’t always as nice as we think.
Jaws wasn’t a psychopath but just having a bad day, says new study
Don’t ask me how researchers can figure out such things (okay, it says how in the article, but I’m focused on the ‘what’), but scientists have discovered something quite curious about sharks, and that is they have distinct personalities. Some are aggressive. Some are shy. Some are mean. Some are nice. Hey, that sounds just like humans, doesn’t it?
The study found that sociable sharks had “friends” with whom they preferred to spend time, which the authors said was a sign that sharks are mentally complex. “They can form social groups and are capable of remembering other individuals,” Dr Jacoby said.
Basically, through a whole lot of observation and analysis, researchers have determined that only a few bad apples are ruining it for the rest of the sharks. The attacks we hear of in the news might very well be the work of ‘jerk’ sharks with bad attitudes and might very well not be indicative of the entire species. I know we humans are a myopic bunch. We don’t like to think of animals as possessing personalities like people do. If we acknowledged that, we would have to rethink the whole foodchain thing, and we can’t have that. Still, if the research is accurate, it is time to rethink our relationship with sharks.
Five swimmers rescued from Galway Bay after dolphin attack
And then there is this: A story out of Ireland that changes everything we lovingly know about dolphins. Allegedly the rogue mammal has been up to a lot of mischief lately, and local swimmers are concerned by the aggressive behavior.
The dolphin, described as a ‘large adult’ then swam towards the swimmers, ‘slapping’ one of them and nudging another sharply.
That’s right. We have a mean dolphin out there, and he’s not the first. Back in 2012, a story surfaced out of Louisiana in which a bottlenose was reportedly harassing people who were swimming in Lake Pontchartrain. While some locals came to the defense of the dolphin in question, saying it had been in the lake for years and had the reputation as being gentle and helpful, something set it off on a tirade. It bit several people and scared even more out of the water, proving that even docile, usually sociable wild animals can turn on you in a heartbeat.
What does this prove? Not sure it proves anything, but it certainly indicates that our rigid beliefs about both sharks and dolphins need to change, or at least not be so rigid.
Sources: abcnews.go.com | theaustralian.com.au | uk.news.yahoo.com