Hemingway Got Sharks All Wrong - Oceana USA
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October 27, 2008

Hemingway Got Sharks All Wrong

BY: jeff

I recently finished Ernest Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea, which I somehow missed out on during school. Hemingway is remembered as the quintessential mid-century outdoorsman; however, a close reading of novel reveals his own confusion about the ocean and the superstitions he projected onto sea creatures, particularly the ominous sharks that star in the dramatic climax of the narrative. The sharks are portrayed as bloodthirsty, greedy, and mindless killers, “like a pig to the trough, if a pig had a mouth so wide that you could put your head in it.” As the sharks attack the old man’s mythical fish, he curses and beats and stabs and kills them, narrated in language steeped in the imagery of a man fending off some barbarian horde. He goes on to depict the sharks that chase him and his fish as wanton man-eaters, aching for something, anything, to bite:”They were hateful sharks, bad smelling, scavengers as well as killers, and when they were hungry they would bite at an oar or the rudder of a boat. It was these sharks that… would hit a man in the water if they were hungry, even if the man had smell of fish blood nor fish slime on him.”Many people attribute the public’s fear of sharks to Peter Benchley’s legendary novel, Jaws, and the film adaptation that followed, but it is clear from these passages that the superstitions, fears, and hatred existed before. And sharks still have a major image problem. I’m sure some people wonder why Oceana is campaigning to save sharks. Meanwhile, we wonder why businesses like Dr. Lark’s think it’s OK to use shark liver oil in their beauty products, and why more people don’t stand up to the fleets that slice sharks’ fins off their bodies and kill tens of millions every year. All of this persists while research shows that, around the world, sharks are disappearing: “Estimates of the total number of sharks killed each year for their fins range from 26 to 73 million per year, and approximately another 50 million sharks are caught unintentionally.” Think about how much has changed since 1952, when the novel was published. Why are our attitudes about sharks so much the same? It’s time we begin to see sharks as the vitally important apex predators they are.