The tiger shark is one of the species that does occasionally attack people.
But this footage shows them to have a certain amount of grace and beauty that one might not suspect from a creature known as the “garbage man of the sea.”
They tend to eat just about anything– as you may remember from Jaws. In that film, the amateur bounty fishermen catch a big tiger shark and claim it as the beast that has been terrorizing Amity Island. Hooper, the marine biologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, demands that he cut open the shark to see what it has been eating. He finds a Louisiana license plate inside.
One would expect an animal that eats things like license plates to be very dull and brutish.
But when you look into the eyes of these tiger sharks, you see something one would never expect to see in a fish.
It’s a kind of glimmer of intelligence. It’s not quite mammalian, but it’s more of a spark than one would find in a largemouth bass or a bluegill.
Tiger sharks are one of the species targeted by shark finners, and in North American waters, they have been heavily persecuted.
I remember seeing one when I was a small boy. It has been captured by a charter fishing boat that had seen the shark devouring a loggerhead sea turtle. (Tiger sharks are excellent sea turtle predators. Sea turtles are one of their favorite prey items.)
The boat’s captain had seen the shark eating the turtle, but he decided to not to catch it.
They didn’t have a very good day out pursuing billfish, so on their way back, they cast lines for the shark. They snagged it, and after a struggle, they hauled it in.
They had not caught a great blue marlin that day.
The fishermen had been failures.
But now they had tangled with a murderous beast of prey.
They had vanquished the great sea monster, and now they could come back to port as heroes.
Knowing that such a creature could live in the water in which people swam scared me a bit. When I was younger, I used to have dreams about being attacked by a big shark that grabbed me with its jaws in the surf.
Even today, I won’t swim in murky ocean water off the coast. I don’t mind swimming in clear ocean water– one of my favorite days was when I went snorkeling in Hawaii.
But I won’t get in the water if I can’t see to the bottom.
However, as I look at the spark in the eyes of these tiger sharks, they seem less scary, less menacing. I feel for them in the way I have felt for wolves and other terrestrial carnivores.
Just as the land needs tigers and wolves, the ocean will need tiger sharks.
That tiger sharks sometimes attack people should not given us license to exterminate them.
Look into those eyes, and the being that is a tiger shark is revealed.
A commonality is there.
I just didn’t expect it.