We Americans have made life so safe, it's become boring.
Trouble is, we're not hard-wired for serenity. We need drama, action and danger. We claim to want safety, but at heart we hanker for an occasional shot of adrenaline. We crave the thrill of being chased by something. We enjoy the feeling of being scared, if only vicariously. This is one reason we spend so much time and money on TV, games and movies.
This deep-rooted need we have for danger came to mind the other night while I was watching a TV show about the five deadliest predators of the sea. You know the genre. The History Channel gives us "Axe Men, "Swamp People" and "Ice Road Truckers." The National Geographic Channel sends us "Border Wars," "Alaska Wing Men" and "Alaska State Troopers." The common thread of of these shows -- and pretty much the only reason we watch them -- is the element of risk and danger.
Back to the show about dangerous predators, these were alleged to be the killer whale, the Humboldt squid, the great white shark, the saltwater crocodile and the box jellyfish. I suppose all of these animals would be somewhat dangerous, given certain times and circumstances, but I don't consider any of them as significantly dangerous to humans. The narrator's hype and the spooky background music didn't scare me at all. Instead of being scared, I was miffed. Shows that make animals appear to be a threat to humans give animals a bad rep. Humans represent a far greater threat to "dangerous" animals than the animals are to humans.
"Dangerous" depends on your definition. The only human deaths attributable to orcas have been by captive whales. As for the chances of being killed or injured by squid, crocodiles, jellyfish and great white sharks, those risks are insignificant when compared to many, far greater risks.
The "most dangerous" also depends on where you are. If you live in Botswana, you wouldn't be afraid of being stung by a box jellyfish. You'd worry about being attacked by a hippopotamus, a species that kills more humans than any other animal in Africa. Ask Kenai Peninsula residents what they consider to be the most dangerous animal on the peninsula, and they'll likely say it's the brown bear. Yet, bears present very little risk to most people in Alaska. You stand a better chance of being killed by a drunk driver.
Why do we fear bears? Bears are big, fast and not always predictable. They have long claws and fearsome teeth. They can appear at any time and any place. They can outrun us, which means they can catch us. They live their lives in mystery, mostly unseen. Bears are living nightmares, the stuff of stories told around campfires since time immemorial.
An interesting thing I've noticed about most so-called dangerous animals is that they become dangerous only when they are injured, cornered, surprised or otherwise stressed. For example, a brown bear usually will take great pains to avoid humans until a hunter shoots it. For some reason, bears become extremely irate after being shot.
If you're set on finding real danger, look to your fellow man. In 2010, humans in Alaska committed 4,537 violent crimes -- murder, rape, robbery and assault. In the decade from 2001 to 2010, the number of people murdered in Alaska each year ranged from 22 to 44, an average of 34 deaths per year. On the other hand, bears in Alaska attack only a handful of people annually, and few bear attacks result in death.
All things considered, the so-called dangerous animals aren't very deadly when compared to man, the most dangerous animal of all.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.