Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We Are Apex Critters, Goddammit

Yesterday a prominent Perth businessman went missing whilst swimming near the Indiana Tea Rooms at Cottesloe Beach. Seven hours later police divers found his shredded bathers on the ocean floor. Another hungry Great White is blamed and today talkback radio is buzzing with locals' anecdotes, arguments and philosophies regarding whether Great Whites have any right to exist in our suburban waters.

The commentary today included that of a champion body boarder who said (and summarising here) that the Great Whites are obliged to share the waters with us and not eat us: therefore if they are eating us they should be culled. This considered hysteria reminded me of Val Plumwood's amazing essay. She wrote it ten years after she was mauled by a crocodile in the Northern Territory. Val Plumwood was an environmental philosopher and her essay Being Prey is a rendition of her experience but also a razor sharp examination of how us humans dislike the idea of being eaten.

This denial that we ourselves are food for others is reflected in many aspects of our death and burial practices - the strong coffin, conveniently buried well below the level of soil fauna activity, and the slab over the grave to prevent any other thing from digging us up, keeps the Western human body from becoming food for other species. Horror movies and stories also reflect this deep seated dread of becoming food for other forms of life: Horror is the wormy corpse, vampires sucking blood and alien monsters eating humans. 
Here is her essay and here is my original post on Val Plumwood.
Image: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-11/jet-skisjpg/3497442


  1. I have to say, as death goes, being eaten alive is probably the most horrific.

    I don't go 'into' the water, even around these shores. The sea is an eat or be eaten environment. An aquatic environment I wasn't designed to inhabit. Sharks are. I share your healthy respect for the ocean.

    There have been numerous, if unproven, sighting of GW's around the SW of Britain relatively close inshore. We have Mako's, Porbeagles, Blues, Threshers - and yet people here refuse to believe that anything bigger off our seaside coasts.

    Maybe it's that same kind of denial...

  2. Never been eaten alive myself Chris, so I couldn't say. Though Helen Garner's line "I would like to remember what it is like to be peeled open and eaten whole," (or thereabouts) sounds pretty nice.

    A strong coastal culture exists here. The man who disappeared yesterday was one of many who swim every morning in the briny.
    RIP and blessings to his family.

  3. Some humans really are arrogant fucks. But hey, guess what? The bodyboarder will die one day too......

  4. I thought it was an odd comment, coming from a body boarder. Most of those folk are pretty pragmatic about sharks, as you would well know Michelle ...

  5. True. And most wave-riders would not say something like that. This guy is obviously very aware that he is 'trespassing' and has a deep fear that this might be the way he goes out.