In Moby Dick, sharks get the shit beat out of them with metal spades when they try to feast on a captured sperm whale, leading one deckhand to shout, "Queequeg no care what god made him shark....Wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin."
Pretty sure that wasn't a compliment.
And then there's 'Jaws.' Every boy of a certain age remembers watching the flick in a dark theater. A naked young woman swims in the ocean. Something in your young loins stirs. Next thing you know, she's yanked under, and all that remains are chunks of flesh and gore. Talk about your sexually scarring experiences.
And that brings us to Shark Week, the annual Discovery Channel gorgefest on things that go bite in the ocean. Did you know Shark Week just turned 25? Ever since Mike Tyson was champ, twentysomething dudes have microwaved nachos, popped opened Natty Lights, watched sharks do unspeakable things on TV, and whispered a billion Whoa, dudes. I swung by Shark Week's website before my trip to see the Shark Lady, and, I have to admit, it scared the shit out of me – not so much the sharks, but the sheer stupidity of so many white people.
Some of it was benign idiocy. (Hey, Johnny Utah, I don't recommend wearing a black wetsuit and bouncing up and down on your surfboard just like, uh, a tasty seal.) But many of the men got what they deserved. There was the "shark whisperer" who liked to kiss nurse sharks for tourists and their underwater cameras. You'll never guess what happens next! OK, you will: One of the nurse sharks got sick of the guy's tuna breath and bit the shit out of his face. Some 285 stitches later, the dude was back out kissing sharks. No Mensa for you, buddy.
You could argue that Shark Week is harmlessly addictive, the seaweed-tainted crack cocaine of pop culture, but it makes Rachel Graham's job infinitely more difficult. The tags she places on sharks cost $2,500 each, and she's tagged 800 to 900 sharks over the past decade. Do the math. Graham works for the Wildlife Conservation Society and must fundraise her tags, salary, and travel expenses – she tags sharks from Cuba to Madagascar – so she spends three-quarters of her time out of the water, fundraising. Think about it: You're trying to raise cash to save an endangered animal. You've got orphaned pandas getting 3 trillion YouTube hits, and you've got seals being clubbed over the head by roughnecks. The money flows in. But what about the poor shark? Are you pulling out your Discover card to save some Great White just so he can flip over your kayak as you paddle off Maui and take a chunk out of your fatty calf? Not likely.
Of course, that scenario isn't happening in real life: There were exactly seven unprovoked fatalities by sharks in the world last year. (By comparison, last year 38 Americans were killed by dogs.) But the shark has image problems Don Draper couldn't solve.
Good thing Rachel Graham likes a challenge.