Halloween, in a lot of ways, is a celebration of fear. We dress like ghosts, goblins, and movie serial killers to give ourselves a sense of control over the things we’re afraid of. It’s also a good time of year to indulge in horror movies, where we can watch ghosts, goblins, and serial killers terrorize other people from the apparent safety of our own homes.
From an ecological standpoint, we have it pretty good. We’ve more or less tamed most environments on land and only make short forays into the oceans under conditions where we still have quite a few advantages. Most of the time we have more in common with Jason than his hapless victims. Imagine being a member of a school of menhaden or a seal that has to make daily trips through Shark Alley. It would be like spending your whole life as a camp counselor at Crystal Lake, constantly looking over your shoulder and getting picked off the second you let your guard down. If mortal terror was a regular part of your life, you’d better believe it would affect your daily habits. And if every member of your species lived with that same fear, there would be places no one in their right mind would go and choices between death by starvation and possible death by being eaten. After all, fish are always eating other fish. Let’s take a journey through the low end of the food web and see what horror can teach us about marine ecology.