Shark Baiting – Pirate Punishments

Sharkbaiting: Pirates, Punishment, and the Ocean’s Most Feared Predators

Ahoy there, ocean adventurers! Are you ready to dive into the deep, murky waters of pirate history? Today, we’re going to explore another dastardly pirate punishment: sharkbaiting! The idea of being tossed into the sea and left at the mercy of hungry sharks is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine, but was sharkbaiting really a common form of punishment used by pirates? Let’s find out!

Sink or Swim: The Reality of Sharkbaiting

When we think of pirates, images of swashbuckling rogues and daring adventures on the high seas often come to mind. But let’s not forget that pirates were also criminals who sometimes used brutal punishments to maintain order and discipline among their crew. One such punishment is sharkbaiting, or throwing someone overboard to be devoured by sharks (1).

While sharkbaiting sounds like something straight out of a horror movie, there is very little historical evidence to suggest that it was a widespread practice among pirates (2). In fact, sharkbaiting may have been more of a rare and extreme form of punishment, reserved for the most severe offenses or as a means of psychological terror.

That being said, there are a few accounts of sharkbaiting in pirate history. For example, the notorious pirate Edward Low was known for his cruelty and is said to have occasionally used sharkbaiting as a form of punishment (3). However, it’s important to remember that these incidents were likely the exception rather than the rule.

Feeding the Myth: The Popularity of Sharkbaiting in Popular Culture

So, if sharkbaiting wasn’t a common pirate punishment, why has the idea captured our imagination? One possible reason is that the combination of pirates and sharks creates a thrilling and terrifying scenario, tapping into our primal fears of the ocean’s most feared predators. These fears have been further fueled by movies, books, and TV shows that depict sharkbaiting as a common and brutal practice among pirates.

The idea of sharkbaiting also plays into the broader narrative of pirate lore, highlighting the danger, ruthlessness, and unpredictability of life on the high seas. As a result, the myth of sharkbaiting has become an integral part of our collective perception of pirates, adding an extra layer of excitement and terror to their already notorious reputation.

A Deeper Dive: The Role of Sharks in Maritime Culture

Sharks have long held a special place in maritime culture, often viewed as symbols of power, danger, and the untamed forces of nature. This fascination with sharks can be traced back to ancient seafaring societies, such as the Polynesians and the Minoans, who revered these predators as gods or divine beings (4).

In the context of piracy, sharks represented a constant and ever-present threat, lurking beneath the waves and ready to strike at any moment. This fear and respect for sharks would have undoubtedly influenced the stories and legends that emerged from the golden age of piracy, contributing to the myth of sharkbaiting as a common form of punishment.

Although sharkbaiting may not have been as prevalent among pirates as popular culture suggests, the idea remains a powerful and evocative symbol of the danger and brutality associated with life on the high seas. As we explore the murky depths of pirate history, it’s important to remember that the truth is often more complex and nuanced than the legends that have captured our imagination.

So, the next time you hear a thrilling tale of pirates and sharkbaiting, take a moment to consider the reality behind the myth, and appreciate the fascinating and often terrifying world of maritime history that has inspired generations of storytellers.


  1. Cordingly, David. (1995). Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. New York: Random House.
  2. Rediker, Marcus. (2004). Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. Boston: Beacon Press.
  3. Zacks, Richard. (2002). The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. New York: Hyperion.
  4. Skomal, Gregory. (2016). The Shark Handbook: The Essential Guide for Understanding the Sharks of the World. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press.