Swim Too Close And You Get the Machete!

Well friends, I read the following story this morning and it took a full day of pondering, gestating, and considering all the angles in it before I could rationally write something for WaterNotes.  I hate to say it, but I still may not have cooled down enough to approach rational rhetoric because this story out of Grand Cayman is breathtakingly unacceptable.

Penny Palfrey, a 48 year old Australian grandmother and ultra swimmer, managed to set an astonishing new record for unassisted solo ocean swims last week by cruising from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman.  She covered 67.25 miles in just under forty-one hours.  While this is – obviously – quite the athletic feat there is one big, ugly problem with this story.

Palfrey’s support vessel and crew killed three oceanic white tips during her swim, presumably to prevent her from being bitten, when the sharks appeared to get close.   In fact four in total did get too close for comfort and the reports are that she was even bumped during the night time portion of her swim.  The crew decided to lure the sharks away from her using offerings of fish carcasses and then killed three in the 6 to 8-foot size range with a machete.

A machete!

While there is something to be said for Palfrey’s dedication to her sport, I question the validity of any sport where only some risks are considered acceptable and other risks are to be managed at all costs.   Can you imagine the avalanche of bad press if Iditarod mushers shot and killed wolves to protect themselves and their dogs during the course? (Wait, do they do that?!)

I don’t want to see anyone eaten by sharks anymore than I want kittens to have control of nuclear weapons. (Can you imagine them batting at the blinking red lights?  We’d be toast!)  It’s not about asking someone to literally die for their sport, it’s about being reasonable, ethical, and appreciative of other forms of life that are not human.

If Palfrey had hit a wall and flailed about from exhaustion and her life was truly in danger, her crew would have done the reasonable thing and pulled her from the water.  When the sharks showed up and she likewise truly felt her life was in danger, pulling her from the water would be the smart, reasonable, and ethical thing to do.  When she was clearly suffering dehydration no one took a Zodiac out to pour Gatorade down a pipeline to her mouth. No one should have hacked apart three predators for doing nothing more than what they are on the planet to do – prey upon things.

I’m outraged on so many levels by this because it is so self-centered and unacceptable to put a single human’s wants and desires before these animals that are already under other human-related stress in their environment.  When I go kayaking in salt marshes I don’t hack apart large alligators that rise up to the surface a few feet off my boat.  When I SCUBA dive I don’t freak out and launch underwater harpoons at the lurking barracuda or the nurse sharks under the coral ledges.  All three of these animals could indeed hurt me, and I have been approached by each previously, but as a pink, rather defenseless but large-brained animal I do the smart thing… I get out of their environment and back into my own!

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