It wasn't surprising to learn that a white shark killed a seal in Chatham Harbor last week. It was bound to happen, since sharks tend to be present where their favorite prey is located, and there are plenty of seals in the harbor.
What was a little surprising was the debate that was sparked when we shared photos of the predation on our Twitter and Facebook accounts. The images were bloody and graphic, and weren't easy to look at. A number of readers argued that posting the pictures was unnecessary and catered only to those with an appetite for gore. A few said that sharing such images could deter people from visiting town, harming the summer economy.
While we opted against publishing pictures of the predation in this week's print edition, we didn't hesitate to do so online. Here's why.
What happened in the harbor wasn't a shark attack. It wasn't an attack at all: it was the very natural process of a predator hunting, killing and consuming its prey. The interaction between sharks and seals in the waters around Chatham is the real deal, not a sanitized version of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, suitable for viewers of all ages. It's the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, only it happens all summer long here.
The predation happened a short distance away from two crowded bathing beaches. And when sharks bite their prey, or something they think might be prey, the results are dramatic. Showing those images is a powerful reminder of the need for swimmers, paddlers and boaters to practice shark safety. Social media and online publishing gives us the chance to share this information in a timely way, making it more relevant for readers.
While looking at bloody seal pictures might seem lurid, it reflects an undeniable human fascination with nature. Where there's fascination, there's an opportunity for education.