The Value of Ethology

While I preferred to study sharks directly through underwater observation, shark researchers often choose tagging methods which allow them to gain certain types of data remotely. The advantages of this method are evident, but the loss of contact with the animal itself results in a dramatically impoverished understanding of them.

A good example is the recently announced study concluding that grey reef sharks swim at different depths depending on the phase of the moon. (link here)

No mention of the effect of the moon on the sharks' general behaviour or subjective states was mentioned. The trouble is that it was not just ignored, it was not even seen. So the study is a dismal, one dimensional report, that might as well refer to robots, for all the understanding it provides of sharks. The hype with which the “finding” was announced also failed to acknowledge the many others over time who have noted that sharks, like other animals, use both of this planet's sources of illumination. 

While the researchers conclude that they hope that this information will aid in conservation, it could very well be used to aid fishing and finning efforts, and in creating and magnifying the distance between animal and researcher, the study points to the worrying way in which animals in general, and sharks in particular, are objectified by science.

My reason for observing the local sharks underwater was to learn what they are like as animals and individuals. But pure research is not favoured by the scientific establishment, which directs the course of its own path through funding. The only reason that no one had established the gestation period of my subjects before me, for example, was the total lack of scientific interest in it.

By explaining the world from the perspective and to the advantage of its dominant groups, the scientific establishment can ignore the search for truth while furthering the dogma and so-called needs of the industrialized society. Attention is shifted away from the subject at hand, and interferes with its objective appraisal in a form of intellectual hypocrisy. In this case it is the diminution of the wild animal concerned that results—the diminution of sharks.

When I first began looking through the Internet for information on sharks, the entry of the word into any browser resulted in the word “attack” coming up. Now, the shark finning crisis has inspired many people to view sharks as victims which need to be saved. But are we closer to learning what these mysterious marine animals are actually like? I wonder. Not even the “JAWS” dogma has been left behind yet.

One of ethology’s major principles is to “know your animal,” by observing its behaviour closely over an extended period of time. That is why the ethological approach can be vital in providing complimentary information to the tagging studies so conveniently employed to the detriment of the search for understanding of the true nature of sharks.

For more information about what sharks are like, including detailed information about how the lunar cycle affects not only the short and long term roaming of sharks, but their subjective states and social lives, see “My Sunset Rendezvous : Crisis in Tahiti.”


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