I Stared A Great White Shark In The Eye

This is a Great White shark. Photo: DJ StruntzYeah, that’s a Great White shark. Photo: DJ Struntz

Some call 'em windows to the soul. In love and in folklore, eyes are said to tell a story. And not the story of genes and how they’re expressed, but a story about life. The story of what an individual has seen and how they’ve felt. They’re supposed sing the songs of a spirit. And I’m listening closely but not hearing a damn thing. I’m locked in a cage underwater in South Africa, staring a Great white shark in the eye. I was hoping to see compassion. I came to see a story! I begged to hear the song. But I see nothing I can relate to. Just death's rainy stare.

Great whites are all function and no fashion. They’re hideous-looking creatures, Darwin’s pale-bellied stepchild, built to kill and not to be a romantic. The only aesthetically pleasing thing about them is the way they swim. They drift through the sea without much fuss, like the way Tom Curren bottom turns or the way a Cabernet floods the palette. It’s effortless; sure is beautiful. The catch is that they glide so gracefully like that and then they turn, chomp, thrash and kill. Sometimes people.

Historically, I’ve been pro-shark through fat and thin. I’ve stood naked atop the internet’s milk crate and scolded the whole of Western Australia for culling the big fish after a string of attacks. They can’t be the man-hungry savages they’re made out to be, I reasoned. They aren’t inherently bad. They’re just wild animals with instincts and urges sometimes that leads to big, human-ending mistaken meals. The shark takes another lap and I no longer believe any of that. They are predators. Bastards. They will swallow your flesh, feel no remorse and come back for more. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

When you enter the ocean — unless you’re shoved in — you voluntarily enter a world in which you’re no longer king of the food chain. You are tossing your limbs and your life into the winds of fate. You might be eaten by a shark, because that’s what happens in the ocean. Sharks eat things. Maybe they’ll eat you. If you don’t like it, pick up a golf club and start swinging — ain’t no dorsal fins on the fairway.

So after staring at a shark’s face, I no longer believe that they are wise, peaceful creatures with a bad reputation courtesy of the brains behind Jaws. Sharks are devilish. They are satan’s swimmers, but I’m in the mood for a dance. —Brendan Buckley