Day 66: 8/30/13: Walking Sharks & Dolphin Saviors

Fascinating stories about everyone’s favorite marine predators:

1. Is Shark fin soup losing popularity in China?

2. Meet the Walking Shark of Indonesia

3. Dolphins Rescue Surfer from Great White

4. 8 Cool and Bizarre Shark Stories from Treehugger

5. Man’s shark attack story is the most boring thing about him

Day 65 8/29/13: Ron Burgundy & The Politics of Captivity

Ron's SportsCenter audition.

Ron’s SportsCenter audition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While editing my shark syllabus,  I realized I ordered a textbook for my class penned by OCEARCH supporter Greg Skomal. Ugh. The only positive is that the  chapter on shark tagging, replete with pictures of sharks being landed on decks with no running water over their gills, and assorted disturbing “research” shots–one of which shows a a live sandbar shark being held upside down with a pipe down its throat–gives me a perfect way to explain the “fishermen posing as scientist” mission of OCEARCH and hopefully encourage  some student action. Sigh.

Signed a petition asking the producers of “Anchorman 2” to nix footage of Seaworld from their new movie. Apparently in the sequel, Ron Burgundy’s career has sunk to such an abysmal low that he’s become an announcer at Seaworld.

I loved “Anchorman,” and appreciate that at least that stupid hellhole is the butt of a joke, but why give it any publicity at all?

In related news, I RSVP’d to a protest at SeaWorld San Diego this Sunday. Can’t wait!

Day 64 8/28/13: The Shark as Spiritual Vehicle

I feel (is it liberal guilt?) when I explore the terror sharks inspire rather than reiterating the urgent fact that we are the true monsters of Planet Earth killing 100 million sharks a year. There I said it. Now, in my ongoing quest to define all the nuances of terror that sharks inspire, here is a passage from the  Illustrated Book of Traditional Symbols that adds a mystical dimension to the primal human fear of being eaten alive:

“The jaws of the monster depict either the gates of hell and entry into the underworld, or they share the symbolism of the clashing rocks, the wall with no door, the eye of the needle, etc., as the contraries, polarity and duality, which must be transcended in order to attain to the ultimate reality and spiritual enlightenment, they must be passed in the “timeless moment.”

Passing through the jaws of the monster is then a heroic trial,  a “difficult passage” from one plane of existence to another, a journey that is impossible in the physical body.

In my perverse spirituality, the shark’s resonance as a terrible God-vehicle is as powerful an argument for conservation as the obvious necessity for apex predators in balanced oceans. But I know it’s a tad esoteric for the op-ed page.

Day 63: 8/27/13: “A Fin in a Waste of Waters”

Today’s title is  a recurring line  from Virginia Woolf’s novel “The Waves.”

That line mesmerized me when I wrote a paper on “The Waves”  for my Woolf seminar in graduate school.  I love the desolation of it–” a waste of waters,” and though I’ve not returned to that book in many years, it persists in my consciousness, a potent symbol, a perfect fragment.

However, High modernism is not the only source for memorable reminders of the power of the dorsal fin.

On September 25th, Ralph Collier, founder of  Shark Research Committee and author of the fascinating and disturbing book “Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century”  will be my guest lecturer at Glendale College. I am a proud member of the Shark Research Committee and frequent reader of Pacific Coast Shark News,   Collier’s archives of detailed eyewitness descriptions of shark encounters (sightings, breachings,  bumped surfboards,  headless seals washed up on the beach or more rarely, full-fledged attacks) from California to Washington.

I could spend days scrolling through these accounts–which are both scientific and poetic, eerie and beautiful. A man diving near Refugio in Santa Barbara County  takes sanctuary in the kelp canopy after a 12-foot great white steals a freshly killed lingcod from his hand.  Two miles west of Refugio, a shark, “possibly a great white,” lifts a kayaker out of the water.  On a cloudless day in Big Sur, a two-foot high dorsal fin surfaces then disappears.

Phrases like “glassy calm” and “crescent-shaped bite” dazzle and terrify. Detailed, crime report-style identifications:  “blunt nose, 12-14 feet in length, grayish black” alternate with the ephemeral, and elusive:   “the shadow of the body was about 15-feet in length.”

These encounters, these observations are usually over in seconds.

The shark moves lazily or with the precision and speed of a torpedo, over the reef, out to sea. Or simply sinks and disappears.

Français : Aileron de requin. English : Shark ...

Français : Aileron de requin. English : Shark dorsal fin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 62: 8/26/13: Yum-Yum Yellow

Swimfin Art Installation 99

Swimfin Art Installation 99 (Photo credit: Blue Genie Art)

If  I’m ever going to do something useful like count sharks for Project Aware, I’m going to have to get advanced diver certification.

Considering my innate spazziness with all things sport, this could take a while. But I invested in my future today by purchasing a pair of amazing swim fins from my dive teacher Greg Tash, at Aqua Adventures.

They’re split fins which means you can swim super fast without a lot of effort.

“What color do you want?” my dive teacher asked.

“Not pink,”  I said. “Not–”

“No yum-yum yellow?” he quipped.

Greg had read my mind as easily as he’d measured my foot.

I hadn’t heard “yum-yum yellow” since the 70s, when a popular theory proposed that sharks like brightly colored bathing suits, rafts, etc. This color-coded wisdom burned itself into my consciousness as did the following commandments:

Don’t swim at dusk or dawn

Don’t swim when menstruating

Don’t urinate in the water

Don’t swim near a sewage run-off (that one was pretty easy to manage)

Don’t swim alone

And if you do swim with a friend remember: You don’t have to swim faster than the shark, just faster than your buddy.

Check out Greg’s white shark cage diving video here.

Day 61 8/25/13: Scuba & Swinburne

Sketched portrait of 23-year-old Algernon Char...

Sketched portrait of 23-year-old Algernon Charles Swinburne, poet and author. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a slow learner in nearly every thing. I am a fan of multiple examples, slow demonstrations and repetitive gestures.  For most of my life, this caused me a great deal of frustration and shame.  Now I don’t really give a shit. I’m happy to be taking extra diving lessons while the rest of the crew heads out to sea next Sunday.

I used to explain my general ineptitude at sports,crafts, handiwork, cooking, to the fact that I spent more time reading about things than actually doing them.

As a moody teenager, I  stayed on the sand with a book, using Swinburne’s ocean to deepen and transform the cold, black  waves of Plum Island, Massachusetts into something primal, maternal:

No wind is rough with the rank rare flowers;
The sweet sea, mother of loves and hours,
Shudders and shines as the grey winds gleam,
Turning her smile to a fugitive pain.

Mother of loves that are swift to fade,

  Mother of mutable winds and hours.
A barren mother, a mother-maid,
Cold and clean as her faint salt flowers.
(From “The Triumph of Time” by  Algernon Charles Swinburne)

Day 60: 8/24/13: Channeling Richard Dreyfuss

It’s no wonder I dreamed of Richard Dreyfuss the night before my first dive lesson. The weirder details of the dream escape me, but I remember Richard Dreyfuss saying how tired he was of people yelling out lines from “Jaws” when they saw him on the street. This prompted me to say something helpful like, “Maybe if they said more obscure bits of dialogue it wouldn’t be so bad.” I then recited  a few fragments from the autopsy scene like “partially denuded bone remaining” or something like that, but this didn’t seem to improve his mood.

Today I channeled Hooper/Richard when we learned how to handle our air tanks. “If you screw around with these things they’re gonna blow up!” etc. When I spit in my mask, I remembered Hooper descending in the shark cage, with a nervous dry mouth, “I got no spit!”  Trying to adjust to the weight of the tanks and controlling my buoyancy, meant that  I tumbled ass over tea kettle (as they say in New England) in the deep end trying to achieve that elusive floating sensation.  Breathing underwater sometimes felt natural, and other times, as when I tried to clear my mask and ended up with water up my nose, I had to surface and gather my wits.

Above the pool, framed by an old rusted brass porthole hung a picture of a great white’s gaping jaws.

I don’t know why, but the image comforted me.