Shark. The word alone evokes a primal response in humans. Peter Benchley once commented that when he wrote his novel “Jaws,” he unknowingly tapped into some primal fear that exists within people — a fear of being eaten by another animal. Beachgoers on Cape Cod may have been channeling Benchley in recent weeks, as great white sharks have once again been sighted near Chatham, dredging up that thrilling mix of fear and fascination that sharks seem to evoke. While no one wants to see a shark swimming next to their boogie board, the reality is that the likelihood of being bitten by a shark is infinitesimal. And, as Benchley observed in the years following, sharks have far more to fear from us than we do from them.
I swam with my first shark in the 1980s. I was 20 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, working with a group of marine scientists. Late in the day, a 5-foot long blue shark swam into our chum slick. For the next hour I marveled at the animal’s stunning indigo color and the elegant way she moved effortlessly through the sea. I was hooked, addicted to sharks.