The white shark only attacks men by mistake or in self-defence, although attacks on humans have occurred causing severe mutilations.
The black legend of the white shark has been forged on the basis of exaggerations. Its fame as a monster, devourer of men, is far in excess of the reality. But, for decades, it has served as an excuse for uncontrolled fishing. Their impressive appearance made them the most sought after of all fisherman’s trophies.
In reality, attacks on humans are rare and, strangely, many of the victims survive. Like these three mutilated men, who know spend their lives killing the white sharks that attacked them.
Why has such an efficient predator left so many men alive?
The myth of the man-eater, which began with the reconstruction of the enormous jaw of a now-extinct relative of the great white, is slowly being replaced by fascination for such a unique animal.
In the past, the boats set out with the intention of killing one, But now what they want is to photograph and film them, because the scientific community has raised the alarm: this is a vulnerable animal that could disappear if over-fishing is allowed to continue.
Proof of how mercilessly the great white has been hunted down is the fact they are increasingly difficult to find. They are most common in South Africa and here in Australia, coinciding precisely with the largest colonies of seals and sea lions.
The white shark possesses the curiosity of all prowlers, and so it will almost certainly be attracted by the series of stimuli that have prepared for it.
The cages guarantee the safety of the camera operators, who with their flippers and neoprene diving suits, look dangerously like the sea lions the whites usually eat.
When it bites in order to test, the shark gets trapped, and reacts violently. It becomes nervous, and pulls at the cage, shaking it and its contents.
A violent encounter, provoked on purpose, but almost the only way to establish any kind of contact with this mystery of the oceans.
It is looking at us with its black eyes, seemingly cold and calculating, the last thing its prey ever see. It makes the so-called “round of fear”, a typical manoeuvre we saw in the killing of the poor fur seal cub. But this time, it detects strange elements in its surroundings.
When images like this have been misinterpreted, they have given a false idea of this animal.
For it, this is a very strange situation, not within its normal parameters, but it does allow us to admire the most feared predator on the planet.
They are difficult to observe, they have to be lured with bait, it is virtually the only way to see them. But when the great white comes to these encounters, its nervous behaviour is as a result of the smell of blood and the stress caused by the boat and the metal cages. It bites because a situation like this insults its finely-tuned senses, but attracts the curiosity of the hunter.
We now know that the white shark only attacks men by mistake or in self-defence, when in these cloudy waters it mistakes them for its normal prey, the sea lions. Now we understand why in these cases it bites once, then lets go, when it recognises the texture and taste of humans, which it doesn’t like. Now we know that every year many more people die as a result of lightning strikes, or bees, than from shark attacks.
It is so elusive that, in seas where there are now hardly any seals, and the white sharks eat other prey that don’t resemble man, not only are there no attacks, but people don’t even suspect they exist.
The great white, which can live for around 40 years, does not reach sexual maturity until it is ten years old. This, and the low birth rate, could mean its populations are seriously threatened.
This fantastic animal is a symbol of the sea in which it lives, a sea which we are threatening, a much more deadly threat than the great white.
It is relatively easy to defend the great white, but there are 350 other species of shark increasingly threatened over-fishing, with virtually no one paying any attention to their plight.
Recent biological research into the sharks’ incredible metabolism may provide remedies for many human diseases, including cancer. The scientific community is increasingly looking to the sea as a source of new substances with which to work.
The two types of marine ecosystems around Australia, the one that depends on the nutrients from the Antarctic, cold and cloudy, and the one that feeds directly on the sun, light and warm, have revealed just a tiny part of their many secrets.
No one knows how many answers lie in these waters, but one thing is certain, in the deep, vast blue, in the salty abyss in which all these creatures live, only one is king.
Carcharodon carcharias, the white death.