Almost everyone is ready to condemn the baby-seal clubber, the sea-otter pelter, and even the beluga-whale hunter. But who's ready to spraypaint deceased author Peter Benchley's gravestone for exploiting and inaccurately portraying the great white as a malicious hunter in his novel Jaws? When sharks are the victims, it seems no one will be their friend. It might be because they are thought of as the bullies led only by their bellies, the murderous and marauding kings of the deep, the real terrors of the Seven Seas. Pure killing machines, sharks are missiles of jagged teeth and crippling jaw power.
But here's some food for thought: Maybe sharks are just misunderstood. Maybe there's a heart somewhere in their cartilaginous chests. It could just be that no one gave them hugs as young fish eggs. For all we know, they could be the Will Huntings of the oceans. Benchley even spent the latter part of his career trying to dispel the fearful myths he initiated. He spoke of an updated Jaws in which the villain would be the humans who mercilessly hunt the shark population, turning such excursions into an industry.
To find out where you stand on the subject, you can come visit "Shark Week" at the Aquarium of the Pacific. You'll get to go behind-the-scenes and see the shark nurseries and judge for yourself if a few more "I love you's" in the baby tank could soften those beady black eyes. You can even risk your hand by reaching out and touching more than 150 sharks at the Shark Lagoon. I, on the other hand (ha! ha!), only enjoy touching sharks with my soup spoon in small chunks, cooked very well.
"Shark Week" at the Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, (714) 590-3100; www.aquariumofpacific.org . Open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Through Aug. 5. Call for ticket prices.