We must truly have become a society of victims. Now even the shark, once the "eating machine" and "primordial predator," has been bestowed victimhood in Thomas Allen's "Shark Attacks."
The New Shark, as Allen calls it, is being finned, hooked, poisoned and otherwise exterminated by humans, the new top predator.
There is some truth in this. Only the United States, Australia and New Zealand manage shark fisheries. Everywhere else, sharks are free for all.
But it does not follow, as Allen thinks it does, that worrying about shark attacks is "irrational."
In fact, after introducing the New Shark, Allen then relates incident after incident of sharks behaving like Old Sharks, chomping down on what comes their way.
Among humans, these are overwhelmingly surfers. According to various surveys, surfers are the targets in something like three out of five shark attacks.
This is because surfers and sharks are attracted to the same areas of the ocean, though for different reasons. Or at least, good surf means a roiled bottom, and sharks apparently make many attacks on humans because -- despite having more kinds of sense organs than we have -- they depend a lot on eyesight.
But, says Allen, while surfers make up the most total victims, the most dangerous part of the ocean, from a shark-human perspective, is where seals and sea lions swim.
Records are none too good, even today, though they are getting better, but Allen presents graphs showing that numbers of shark attacks off U.S. coastlines correlate pretty closely with population growth.
Sharks are not very dangerous. Bees kill several times more humans than sharks, and in every U.S. state that has both sharks and alligators, there are more alligator attacks. But a book called "Bee Attacks" is not likely to sell as well as a book called "Shark Attacks."
As a curiosity, Hawaii is the only state that has more deaths from sharks than from lightning. Not because Hawaii has so many fatal shark attacks, but because the islands have so few thunderstorms.
Allen's book is a hodgepodge, repetitive and poorly organized. But it does contain a lot of information, much of it new and some of it incorrect. Still, researchers do know more than they did only a few years ago about what sharks attack, when and where, and some of that is available here, if read carefully.
But the book in unreliable in many details. For example, Allen writes that, "In Hawaii, tourists who don't know the waters are frequently the victims." Not true.
It is also not true that in Hawaii "official" data on shark attacks "is highly influenced by the conflicting interests of tourist, diver, fisherman, environmental and shark-welfare constituencies." That is because there are no "official" data. He just made that up.
There is an unofficial shark attack log, maintained by a turtle researcher, because sharks attack turtles. It shows that until recently, there were NO shark attacks on tourists. It is impossible to be sure, but this apparently was because tourists stuck close to shore and most Hawaii shark attacks were out a ways. In the last 15 years or so, tourists have been attacked by sharks, probably because they are venturing farther from shore than they used to.