I spy… Shark deprived of her mate

In New Scientist, 21 January 2017

The article reports the consequences that led a shark, who was denied company of her male friend, to become pregnant without having a male involved. The state-of affairs represented in various linguistic features from lexicogrammatical and semantic choices to cohesive chains, is that which holds a human-supremacist view. The titles:

Online title: Female shark learns to reproduce without males after years alone

Paper copy title: Shark deprived of her mate turns asexual

raises reader expectations, activating a schema of ‘crime’. If the title had read Woman deprived of her husband we would immidiately think of a kidnapping situation in which a woman was held prisoner and was forced to be without her partner. But since the human supremacist view is the dominant hegemony, we don’t read it that way. Animals that are held captive (whether for science or entertainment) is fair game.

To a certain extent, the shark, named Leonie, is seen to be given social agency:

“A female shark has had babies” 

“her”

“she”

Additionally, we find: “Leonie the zebra shark met her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville.” The verb choice here makes the imprisonment of animals seem natural, as part of the state-of-affairs. In other words, there is no ethical or moral problem to capture nonhuman animals and subject them to a lifelong imprisonment. A more accurate choice would be to say that Leonie was captured and imprisoned in an aquarium, and so was her partner. Saying that they met, makes it seem as though they had agency and control.

It could be argued that the personifying language is used in order to enliven the subject, render it more entertaining and approachable. Because, in stark contrast to this, there is a complete absence, which the reader would not expect given the personified tone, of empathy and compassion to the fact that Leonie’s partner, and father of her babies was taken away from her. The stance and language used is scientific and ‘objective’:

“Shark deprived of her mate” : A short, ellipted passive (a shark was deprived). Short passives are used to hide responsibility, hiding who deprived her. However, I argue that in this case, it isn’t used to hide the responsible, because scientist already have the all-clear to do as they wish. In other words, from the scientists’ point of view there are no ethical considerations to take into account in this cruel experiment and so there is no need to purposefully hide agents.

This is a cruel experiment because as the first paragraph reveals, she was torn away from her ‘long-term mate’. Then the paragraph continues with a general naming: “It’s a rare case of an animal switching from sexual to asexual reproduction.” When nonhuman animals are reported on, in a change of frame back to ‘science talk’, the language reverts back from Leonie to an animal.

The article indicates that this biological ability to become pregnant without the physical need of a male present is not a new phenomenon to science. Yet, the ability to do so is not given credit to the animal, but to science:

Online title: Female shark learns to reproduce without males after years alone

The title suggests that the shark is taught by science to reproduce.

There isn’t so much as a presupposition in the article that she may have been so lonely that she made use of her biological abilities to bring offspring to replace the void and reminiscence of a time she spent with a loved one. We come across many examples in media reporting human animals who lost their partners and decided to use their eggs/sperm to have their children as a way to keep loved ones around.

“Leonie the zebra shark met her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville.” The verb choice here makes the imprisonment of animals seem natural and ‘fun’. A more accurate choice would be to say that Leonie was captured and imprisoned in an aquarium, and so was her partner. Saying that they met, makes it seem as though they had agency and control.

Publications such as these reinforce the human-supremacist ideology that governs most of humanity. Language use such as illustrated above reflects the unequal, oppressed position nonhuman animals are relegated to. Nonhuman animals are sentient beings, who think, feel and have interests much like human animals and deserve to be given full equal, lawfully bound rights to human animals.

The author is willing to remove any content that may infringe on copyrights
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