Much how killer whales dropped that fearful moniker a few decades ago to adopt the friendlier sounding orca, sharks are now attempting a reputational rebrand of their own.
Leading the effort is the new feature-length documentary Playing With Sharks, which has just surfaced on the National Geographic hub on Disney+.
The film is a fascinating and exhilarating watch. Even so, I don't feel that their chances of success in repositioning themselves in our collective psyche are as buoyant as that of their ocean brethren.
Orcas you can get behind. They're big and playful and their face is moulded into a constant, cheeky grin. They look like they don't take life too seriously and that they know the punch line to this big cosmic joke called life.
But sharks? There ain't nothing playful about them. Their cold black eyes are mean and their face consists only of sharp jagged teeth. They appear to be in a constant state of annoyance and just look extremely pissed off, like they've realised that they're the punch line to this big cosmic joke called life and are not at all pleased about it.
Maybe I'm being unfair but I'm yet to see a shark I wasn't terrified of. There's something about sharks that just instills instant fear in humans - particularly this one. I don't think it's solely down to their gruesome appearance, rows of razor teeth or the cultural impact of the movie Jaws.
I believe it's instinctual. An evolutionary caution. The result of a shared trauma that's buried in our bones and twisting around deep in the strands of our DNA.
Think about it; while our heritage stretches back six million years, modern man has only been romping around the Earth for a mere 200,000 years. Sharks, on the other fin, have been the apex predator of the oceans for more than 450 million years. That's a mind-bogglingly long time. Here's a fun fact: Sharks have been around longer than trees! This probably explains why trees don't grow in the ocean. They're as terrified of those damn fish as we are.
Someone who's not afraid of sharks is Valerie Taylor, the 85-year-old subject of Playing With Sharks and a pioneering underwater photographer and videographer and marine conservationist. She likens sharks to dogs, claiming they have distinct personalities and you just need to understand them to not be frightened of them.
Don't scoff, she's very convincing. Especially, when retelling her decades' worth of up close and personal encounters with all manner of sharks. From deadly and aggressive oceanic whitetip sharks through to murderously gruesome great white sharks, Taylor has swam, filmed, photographed and yes, played with them all.
To prove her point she tells a ripper of a story about training a whitetip reef shark to swim over a coral reef at a certain spot and at a certain angle so she could snap a photo of the great fish swimming directly at her lens as a glistening sun rippled in the background. Her story was terrific. The footage filmed by her late husband and creative partner Ron of her actually training the wild shark in the ocean is amazing. The photograph she took is absolutely astonishing.
"Dogs bite and kill more people than the dangerous sharks," she says, summing up. "They learn faster than you can teach a dog."
Taylor's fearless attitude mixed with her lifelong commitment to teaching us about sharks, raising awareness about their plummeting numbers at our hands and the absolutely brilliant work she and Ron captured of the fearsome predators showed the world a side of sharks that our irrational brains were too scared to acknowledge and even now, still have trouble accepting.
Playing With Sharks lets her tell her life story, from bikini-clad champion spear diver to reformed and acclaimed underwater photographer and highly respected conservationist in her own words.
It's a helluva ride as she recounts filming the most terrifying scenes in the movie Jaws, details how she survived swimming with a 100-strong pack of aggressive oceanic whitetips and explains how she managed to hand feed a whopper of a great white off the back of a small boat. All of her tales are backed up by Ron's jaw dropping, mindblowing and incredibly beautiful underwater footage.
It's an extraordinary tale and Playing With Sharks is a remarkable documentary. It's inspiring, frightening, thrilling and, at times, poignant. It hasn't taken a bite out of my evolutionary induced fear - I won't be rushing off for a playdate with a great white anytime soon - but it has concerned me to sharks very real existential plight. These misunderstood creatures are being hunted to extinction. It turns out that we're the killer bastards of the sea, not the sharks.
While the doco may not be the compete brand refresh sharks may have been hoping for, it can only be considered a win.