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by Dr. Erich Ritter
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Shark-human interaction has a religious history



Most, or probably all, of the Pacific islanders share a much different viewpoint of nature and sharks than the western civilizations, and it is not surprising that they don’t portray sharks in a negative manner. These animals often represent much more than mere creatures of the sea. Native Hawaiians even worshipped some of the shark species, and remainders of this ancient form of religion are still seen in drawings, monuments, and expressions. Some sharks functioned as protectors of families or even as deities. Protectors were called ‘aumakua, representing reincarnated family members. To identify the shark in which the soul of a deceased lived on was the task of a shark guardian, called kahu manõ, some form of priest. Once the order was received to look for such a shark, these priests withdrew for days at a time to remote shore areas looking for an animal that possessed similar scars, characteristics, or any other trait that could connect it to the departed family member. Once declared as the reincarnated person, a shark then was not just the constant companion for the family members when they went swimming or fishing but also acted as their protector. Throughout history, native cultures kept much tighter bonds with nature and lived in harmony with animals and plants. Although such a lifestyle would be rather difficult for the majority of western civilizations, being more nature oriented could still be part of everybody’s daily routine. Being more tuned into nature would not just have a positive effect on nature itself but on the person as well. Without question, a more balanced person acts more appropriately under any type of pressure. This could, and definitely would, have a positive effect even on the sharks as well. While diving, sharks can create nervousness like no other marine animal. This is most noticeable among people who are generally afraid of nature and its creatures and don’t know how to behave correctly and interact accordingly among them. How to act amid marine animals and within an array of underwater situations should be included in any curriculum for achieving diving proficiency. It is the unknown that creates the most stressful situations and not issues such as technical malfunctions. Considering how much time a diver spends in maintaining equipment, checking it prior to a dive, and being up-to-date about new products, equal time should be invested to get in sync with nature, learn what to expect, and master how to (re)act appropriately. Being able to understand a situation with a shark or any supposedly dangerous animal and “reading the signs” correctly should be as important as any other task a diver considers important.


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