Speaking to the role that sharks have played in history and their status today among different cultures, a science reporter from the Washington Post came to campus Tuesday to share her experiences and view on the creature that has been “demonized.”

Juliet Eilperin’s lecture entitled, “Demon Fish: Travel Through the Hidden World of Sharks” focused on the roles of sharks in ancient cultures in places like Greece and Hawaii, which she said vary greatly from how they are viewed today.

In the Middle Ages, she said sharks were largely ignored. When they were rediscovered, they were perceived in a new way: as frightening predators.

“What’s interesting is we had to lose our connection with sharks to demonize them – really make them terrible,” she said.

Eilperin addressed this fear and said it is understandable, although it is getting out of hand. She said a new effort is being made to conserve the shark population as they are found to be a crucial part of the food chain and that much is being learned from them to contribute to today’s society.

Sharks are being fished as a commodity in many cultures, she said, which she noted is ironic because this is occurring at the same time that scientists are discovering so much about sharks.

She added a number of groups are lobbying for shark protection, and she urged audience members to reconsider their relationships with sharks. She said she encourages the move from killing sharks to ecotourism, a form of whale shark watching and marine reserves.

Eilperin’s lecture was also accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation of various pictures, including many from her travels.

Dana Freiburger, lecture attendee and graduate student in history of science at the University of Wisconsin, said she liked this use of images.

“I like the way she was able to use her images of the sharks to not only talk about the sharks as animals but our human contact with them,” she said.

After her speech, Eilperin opened the presentation to questions from the audience. She answered questions regarding topics such as her personal experience with sharks, protection against sharks, conservation of sharks and education of the youth about this topic.

As of 2004, Eilperin has been covering the environment for the national desk. Eilperin’s book, “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks” was published in 2011. She said through her book, she “was trying to tell the story of the ocean globally, through sharks.” 

Attendee Jen Martin, who is currently a UW grad student in history, shared her reaction to the presentation.

“I have read Juliet’s book which is part of the reason I came here. I think it is one of the best books on the subject in the past 10 years,” she said. “She’s an amazing speaker. She was very skilled at answering the different questions and I think the book will do a tremendous job of making people aware of the need for shark preservation.”

Eilperin graduated from Princeton magna cum laude in 1992. She started writing for the Washington Post in 1998 where she covered Bill Clinton’s impeachment.