Friday, August 05, 2005

Reality TV faces great white sharks

They were then dropped, one at a time, into a diving cage to get within brushing distance of great white sharks drawn in by bait. They will have been filmed probably in a state of nervous tension and, once under water, mouthing expletives indecipherable amidst their rapidly exhaled bubbles.

Whether they felt horror at a perceived threat or wonder at natural magnificence remains to be seen. Certainly Peter Benchley, author of the book upon which the film Jaws was based, will be hoping for the latter.Jaws arguably did more to damage our perception of the great white than all other shark horror stories combined. But after the film was made, Benchley turned and, in the 30 years since, has championed conservation and a greater understanding of sharks – including the top-of-the-food-chain great white.

ITV has said that Celebrity Shark Bait is to be screened as part of Bite Night, an evening of three shark-related programmes. The group title hardly implies a sympathetic view of sharks but, while the trilogy naturally includes the nightmarish Jaws, the third programme appears scientifically thoughtful.“Are we right to be so scared of sharks?” reads ITV’s preamble for Sharks on Trial. “Are they the cold, calculating killing machines with a taste for human flesh that we have been led to believe?

Or are they vulnerable, misunderstood creatures and the innocent victims of bad PR?”Sounds hopeful for sharks. Then:“Join us as we go for a dip with the experts who make it their mission to understand sharks, test out the latest gadgets designed to put them off eating us, meet the ecologists fighting for their cause, and interview some of the many humans who have suffered at the snap of their jaws.”Be ready, it seems, for varied shades of opinion.*Peter Benchley’s own way of marking Jaws’ 30th anniversary has been to publish a 208-page hardback book, Shark Life, with US publisher Delacorte Books for Younger Readers.

In it Benchley does his best to paint an accurate picture of the lives of many types of shark, and their relationships with man. Of course man is the biggest threat of the lot. But of those sharks that can pose threats to man, Benchley describes how best to avoid potential trouble – but puts perceived threats into perspective, as might be expected from this celebrated doom-monger turned truth-seeker.


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