Watching “The Shallows”, I was entertained yet deeply insulted – by the great white villain, that is.
Knowing great white sharks up close and personal as I do, the film’s stupid premise about this apex predator made me cringe.
Of course, entertainers flaunt the license to murder facts – for the sheer fun of it. That’s why it’s called entertainment, in the first place. It’s not supposed to have substance at all. Sheer terror factor is enough. That’s why we watch it.
And if you’re the type who relish being terrified by monsters, “The Shallows” is a taut thriller for scares, gets you at the edge of your seats and screaming to high heavens.
The location was breathtakingly beautiful too – Lord Howe Island, 600 nautical miles east of Sydney, Australia, a UNESCO heritage site, which was supposed to be a “secret” beach somewhere in Mexico.
After seeing the movie, I’m putting it in my bucket list.
The Shallows’ heroine, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) – a hot blonde in bikini, is a medical school dropout seeking solace after her mom’s death. She journeys to mom’s secret Mexican beach and surfs there alone to reflect – until she stumbles on a whale carcass that a great white was feeding on.
The shark attacks, takes a chunk off her leg before she can hoist herself up a rock outcrop, like a sleek siren in distress, stranded 200 yards from shore, so near and yet so far from safety.
The digital shark was as huge and toothy as it can be – and incredibly dumb.
I’ve gone halfway around the world three years ago just to swim with great whites, so I know them quite well.
For a full month, I volunteered with a white shark conservation group in Gansbaii, South Africa and dived with great whites everyday in the freezing Atlantic Ocean. I petted sharks bigger than my boat quite nicely, just avoiding the bitey bits.
First of all, great whites can never breach in “The Shallows” too close to shore. They need enough depth and momentum to propel their 4-5 ton bodies out of the water. That’s why they can only be seen breaching in South Africa – in deep but narrow channels.
So, when the great white exploded out of the supposedly shallow waters to clench a man in her jaws, my heart jumped. I was startled. Next instant, the alarm bells went berserk in my brain. That can’t possibly happen!
Great whites do come to shallow waters when they give birth to their young, but they never go jumping out of there either – they simply couldn’t. There’s no room for breaching.
Second, great whites won’t pursue anything or anyone in the way depicted in “The Shallows”, not to hunt prey, to protect their food or territory, not even in grudge (this one had a fisherman’s hook in her mouth).
Great whites don’t hold grudges, though their one enemy – orcas, the wolves of the sea, obviously do.
Maybe it’s because white sharks are not as intelligent and as social as killer whales, the biggest members of the dolphin family.
In one documented case, a motor boat ran over an orca pup, gashing his back badly and from then on, the mother took to inspecting each boat coming out of that harbor, holding each by her powerful flukes, looking for the one which injured her young.
As for feeding behavior, when dead whales drift at sea, great whites congregate on this free bonanza and become so focused on gorging themselves to bother about trying to bite each other’s heads off.
Once satiated, the sharks behave as drunken people do and actually become amorous. The food binge becomes a prelude to sex.
And with an 80,000 pound fatty carcass available, a shark will never pursue a bony human as relentlessly as this movie shark did with Nancy.
Truth is, they don’t like our taste and can’t get anything useful from eating us. That’s why when they get a bite of humans – often a case of mistaken identity (our wetsuits and surfboards make us look like seals, their favorite food), they usually spit us out. They hunt seals for their thick layers of fat – blubber, which they need for energy.
Energy is precious. And it takes so much energy to chase prey around. Hence, predators select their prey with care and pursue it only if they think they have a good chance of catching and eating it. If sharks can’t catch their natural prey – seals – within a reasonable period, they abandon the chase.
Worst of all, what Nancy did to kill her white shark pursuer was downright stupid.
While adult great whites are as big as school buses, their bodies are surprisingly agile. They are almost as maneuverable as their seal prey who jump, twist and turn in the air to avoid their lethal jaws.
They can stop on a dime. I’ve seen that with my own eyes, when a massive great white shot straight at me then turned at the very last second, within two inches of my face, to give me a smug, baby blue-eyed stare, short of saying, “Gotcha!”
Hence, in real life, the demise of “The Shallows” shark will never happen.
Still, one thing, which the movie’s ending implied, is true.
If a shark bites you and you survive, she inhabits your soul for the rest of your life.
Never again can you resist the call of the sea – and the sharks.
For this reason, some of the world’s most dedicated great white conservationists are themselves shark attack survivors. Those who have been chomped on by this most magnificent fish live to love them best.