Sharks are probably one of the easiest animals to anthropomorphize. Even without the help of Hollywood movies to sensationalize them, their reputations — true or not — always preceded them. It’s as if something deep down in our subconscious wiring sees their beady black eyes, their gaping mouths pulled back into a sneer, and the rows upon rows of arrow-tip teeth and flashes a DefCon 5 alert. Our fight or flight instincts kick in with the urge to cut and run much stronger than its other alternative. And on the rare occasions when sharks do attack humans, the natural instinct is to attribute intention to its actions. It did it on purpose. It acted out of malice. It is evil. Shark Attack Investigation: The Paige Winter Story addresses that tendency and shows how a young attack victim managed to rise above blaming sharks.
Paige Winter was just a normal high school junior when a shark attacked her while swimming in a North Carolina beach. The creature grabbed hold of her leg, digging its teeth and jaws through the soft tissue and into the bone. Winter was immediately pulled under water and the struggle continued while her horrified sister and friend looked on. Whenever she tried to pull away or get her head above water, the powerful shark yanked her back under. (There were actually more than one shark there at the time.) While she managed to escape, thanks to her father’s intervention, it came at a cost. She almost died and ended up losing almost the entirety of one of her legs.
As its title suggests, Shark Attack Investigation takes viewers on a step-by-step analysis of why the shark attacked Paige Winter on that day. It runs through possibilities as varied as the brackish nature of the water that day to the number of beach goers in the water that day. Most of the detective work focuses on identifying what kind of shark was responsible and whether Paige’s attackers were attacking in tandem.
To her credit, Paige Winter did not fall back on self-pity after losing her leg. She displayed resilience and a determination not to allow her injuries to define her. What’s more, she refuses to allow her experience to influence her feelings about her attackers. We learn that Winter does not blame the shark, recognizing that it did not act out of malice.
“Don’t be mad at that shark,” she recalls telling her father. “It’s just a shark doing its shark thing.”
Shark Attack Investigation: The Paige Winter Story does a solid job of educating and informing its viewers. While the focus of National Geographic’s Sharkfest is on sharks, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that humans play a major role in their survival, short and long-term. Paige Winter’s example goes a long way towards showing how we can all co-exist.