My favorite scene in the quirky 2004 flick "The Life Aquatic" has Bill Murray, portraying an eccentric oceanographer, embarked on a mission to slay a rare jaguar shark that ate his partner.
Asked why a respected marine scientist dedicated to wildlife preservation would want to kill an endangered species, Murry shrugs his shoulders.
"Revenge," he replies.
I thought of this straightforward response the other day when I read about a 17-year-old Florida boy whose right arm was torn off by an 11-foot alligator while swimming in a pond with two friends.
A hunter killed the gator, and after the boy's arm was retrieved from the reptile’s stomach doctors tried unsuccessfully to reattach it.
Recovering in the hospital, the boy was asked if there was anything he desired.
He thought for a moment and said, “I want his head.”
I certainly sympathize with the kid, and am sure I’d feel less than charitable toward any critter that took a bite out of me, but at the same time can’t really fault any predatory animal for abiding its natural instincts.
I maintain this attitude despite having been chased a few times on land and sea by hungry marauders.
I remember feeling overwhelming relief a number of years ago when I saw the grizzly bear that had charged me while I camped in Alaska being whisked away by helicopter to a remote region after I reported the incident to park rangers.
I was relieved not just that the aggressive ursine no longer would harm me or any other hapless hiker, but that the rangers simply hadn’t shot and killed it.
Likewise, I bear no grudge against the enormous shark that circled our 8-foot rowboat years earlier when a friend and I crossed Long Island Sound at night.
The stampeding yaks that almost trampled me in Nepal while I crossed a rickety suspension bridge certainly didn’t know any better.
I’ve felt queasy a few times while swimming in close proximity to snapping turtles as big as manhole covers, and on more than one occasion have made hasty wet exits from my kayak after discovering snake stowaways in the cockpit.
As loyal readers may know, I’ve never been a hunter and haven’t fished for decades.
For the most part I no longer am evangelical about my objections to these “sports” since nobody likes to be harangued about their hobbies – but I make an exception when it comes to those who kill gratuitously or for trophies.
On camping trips up north I often enjoy stopping in at local coffee shops and diners for a final meal before heading into the wild, or for a first meal after days on the trail. One such café cured me of that appetite, though: Its walls were covered with the stuffed heads of moose, deer, lynx, coyote and dozens of other animals.
How can that be appetizing?
And those lobster tanks in seafood restaurants? I just don’t get it.
I also don’t understand why television stations and newspapers, including this one, broadcast or print photographs of giant dead fish hanging next to or being held up by proud fishermen who reeled them in. For me, this is the lowest form of lionization.
I’d rather see an empty net above the caption, “The one that got away.”
The season is early; great white sharks have been spotted off Cape Cod, so it’s only a matter of time before some determined angler is photographed next to “Jaws.”
I remember reading an interview with Peter Benchley, author of that celebrated novel, in which he lamented the rash of wanton shark killings his book inspired.
I suppose the recent incident in Florida, along with such grotesque TV shows as “Gator Boys” and “Swamp People,” will provoke increased senseless slaughter.
See you later, alligators.