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A Killing Machine?

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A Killing Machine?

[Ed. Note: Read Child Abuse: 6 Year Old Fish Killer]

By James McWilliams
June 2013

It drives home not only the greatest irony ever uttered about a man who killed a shark, but it provides evidence of how, for so many killers, there is only one balance of power that matters: humans over non-humans. Johnson, proving intelligence is not one of the hunter’s strongest suits, explained of the beautiful creature he tortured for two hours, killed, and lorded over: “This is definitely a killing machine.”

mako shark killing fishingIt’s not a particularly fun exercise to get inside the mindset of a “big game” hunter, but every now and then some news item or other sends me there. This creature, usually a white and balding and middle-aged male, has reached a juncture in life where bagging a large animal in the wild has come to bear on nothing less than personal identity politics. The act of killing—killing, not photographing or in any other way innocuously witnessing—is central to some seemingly necessary narrative of toughness, self-sufficiency, adventure, and the loony idea than real men keep doing, moving, acting, winning, conquering. The aqueous victim of this contorted sense of the meaningful life is entirely innocent of the hunter’s psychological carnival but ends up, nonetheless, on the news, dangling from a hook, as a prized manifestation of the hunter’s needly little id explosion.

It happened the other day, this time with a mako shark and a human being named Jason Johnson. Johnson, from Mesquite, Texas, caught a female mako off the coast of Huntington Beach, California. The shark weighted 1,323 pounds and was 11-feet long, measurements that exceed the existing record—a 1,221 pounder caught in Massachusetts in 2001—by a healthy margin, and thus dimensions that turned Johnson into a rockin’ media star basking in his 15 minutes. Reports highlighted Johnson’s heroism, noting how the shark fought for her life for over two hours and pulled a quarter of a mile of line out of his rod’s reel. Johnson, by contrast, touted his own above-board bravado: “Any wrong step and I could have went out of the boat and to the bottom of the ocean.” What a man.

According to 2013 statistics, roughly 100 million sharks are killed every year by the Jason Johnsons of the world. Most sharks are killed for their fins, others to compensate for their hunters’ flagging manhood, but either way : the large-scale decline in sharks is causing environmental havoc, upsetting infinite ecological balances of power we cannot and do not want to see. David McGuire, director of California-based protection advocacy group Shark Stewards, reminded readers of this inconvenient point at the very end of an obscure news report, saying, “People should be viewing these sharks as wonderful animals that are important to the ocean and admiring how beautiful they are” rather than “spilling their blood and guts.”

Johnson’s assessment was a bit different. It drives home not only the greatest irony ever uttered about a man who killed a shark, but it provides evidence of how, for so many killers, there is only one balance of power that matters: humans over non-humans. Johnson, proving intelligence is not one of the hunter’s strongest suits, explained of the beautiful creature he tortured for two hours, killed, and lorded over: “This is definitely a killing machine.”