i Editor's Letter: Obsessed by sharks


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The Independent Online


There is one piece of television I am looking forward to more than the return of Sherlock. (You can find Ellen E Jones’s review here, but if you haven’t seen the first  episode, be warned, her write-up  carries a major “spoiler alert”.)

The BBC’s Natural History Unit has been quietly filming a major series on sharks, my mole in the unflattering neoprene tells me. After shooting around the world – from South Africa, Australia and Mexico to Norway and the Hebrides – the film crews are now back in their editing suites in Bristol.

I’m obsessed by sharks, a creature that has barely changed for 400 million years and yet is still so poorly understood. I was frightened by them  until four years ago, when I dived on  the Great Barrier Reef while on assignment in Queensland. Seeing  your first sharks glide out of the Pacific haze right at you quickly gives you  a humbling sense of insignificance within nature’s expanse. Their gift to  the two-legged intruder is mystery, power, grace, mutual curiosity.

In Western Australia, the state is about to embark on a mass shark cull, following the deaths of six surfers and swimmers in two years. Scientists dismiss the slaughter as well-intended but futile and possibly counter-productive – not to mention further endangering threatened species. Politicians will get carcasses to hoist aloft at the seaside, but “there is evidence [it will] draw white sharks in,” says Christopher Neff, who has completed the first PhD on the “politics of shark attacks”. Perhaps someone should make a blockbuster film...

Another Pacific hotspot which has also seen several fatal attacks, the  Hawaiian island of Maui, has turned to  education instead. Marine scientists are electronic-tagging tiger sharks – and the public can follow eight of them online (go to tinyurl.com/nsfyoav). It won’t tell you when it’s safe to go in the water, but may help begin to unravel this aquatic enigma. Bring on Auntie’s take on Jaws.


Twitter: @olyduff