Relabeling shark attacks

by Dr. Erich Ritter
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Probably the most often used word in connection with sharks is the word 'attack.' Seemingly right since that is what it has always been called. But, under closer scrutiny, this word is erroneous. Looking up 'attack' it is referred to as a '... act against (someone or something) aggressively in an attempt to injure or kill... “It is the part of 'attempt to injure or kill' that is wrong when talking sharks. No shark wants to harm us. Biting occurs due to exploration, stress, competition, harassment, play, target practice etc. but never because the shark has the intention to hurt us or seek damage. Even when a shark feels harassed or stressed. Its response would be self-preservation but not with the goal to harm.

So since a shark does not want to hurt us, the correct word to summarize an interaction leading to a bite would be 'incident' or 'accident'. I understand that this description of no intent to hurt us during an incident might be heretical for a few people or most of them but the burden of proof lies with them. It would need to be shown that even one incident between a shark and a person was overshadowed by a shark's malice. And I dare anyone to show me such proof. Of course, some folks will highlight that each year between five and 10 people get killed, implying that killing means doing harm but none of these cases will or would show that. That goes for the multiple bites as well. I came across a few of those during my time as an investigator with the 'Global Shark Attack File' but had to conclude that they were either cases of 'claim response' or then 'pattern compensation.' The first one is nothing more than a shark fights for the rights of a victim with e.g., a lifeguard. Despite that the shark's intention after the first bite is to let go, mostly because it was an exploratory bite, the sudden appearance of another person who tries to rescue the person from the scene triggers a form of claim from the shark's side ending in a type of tug o' war between the shark and the person with the victim as the object of possession. On the other hand, a 'pattern compensation' reflects a scenario where a shark places an initial bite, then let’s go, but will be hit by the victim and starts to defend itself by e.g., grabbing the striking hand. Such would be a defensive behavior without the intent of harming.

Labelling a situation with a shark biting a person an accident or incident does not have a ring to it as 'shark attack' does but in a world where correcting the past is paramount we really should make the switch.

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