Not since the summer of 1975 have I seen shark-hysteria so high.
As you may recall, that was the summer Jaws was released, and, practically overnight, beaches all over the country were a lot less crowded.
It was certainly understandable. After all – prior to seeing a thirty foot Great White on the big screen, devouring everything in its path, most people were blissfully unaware of the presence of sharks, let alone the (suddenly perceived) threat they posed.
Then, like any good social phenomenon, the legend grew like a weed (sea weed if you will).
The sequels, copy-cats and rip-offs followed in droves – and people’s fear of the ocean’s apex predator grew proportionally.
Forty-four years later – you’d think the frenzy would be gone, or at least down to a realistic level.
Any decline in shark-o-phobia has been quickly reversed by social media.
Scroll through your facebook feed on any given day and you’re bound to come across a few stories about sharks “terrorizing” a coastal community, forcing the closing of a local beach or “attacking” a swimmer. Of course, twenty, thirty or forty years ago the technology to track and monitor sharks in real time didn’t exist. Now that it does, people are under the misconception that their favorite beach is all of a sudden overrun with sharks – and, of course, these sharks have only one thing in mind…the tasty flesh of humans.
The truth of the matter is – the sharks have always been there – we just didn’t know it.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned stories fuel the fire and, at a minimum, make people more frightened of the ocean…at worst, lead to the indiscriminate killing of sharks.
Estimates of the number of sharks killed worldwide by humans per year (either directly or indirectly) range from 100 million to 273 million.
Let’s go with the low end – 100 million.
Think about how many 100 million is…it comes down to 11,417 per hour.
It doesn’t even sound possible, but every source I checked corroborated it.
Now let’s look at the number of humans killed by sharks per year, again – worldwide.
Not ten million…not even ten thousand…
For you math nerds that equates to .001 per hour.
And these people are not eaten as the myths would have you believe. Most die from loss of blood after being bitten. Contrary to popular belief, sharks do not see humans as a delicacy…when a shark bites a human it is done as an investigation. Once they realize we are too low in calories to be worth the effort, they move on.
You are ten times more likely to die taking a bath than from a shark bite. Seriously…an average of 113 people die each year while relaxing in the tub.
Yet because of their completely erroneous reputation, sharks are targeted, caught and killed in the name of “who-cares-it’s-only-a-shark.”
The problem is…it’s not “only a shark” – it’s an extremely important link in the food chain whose existence has broad reaching effects.
In North Carolina a drop in the number of Great White sharks led to an increase in rays – the growing ray population, in turn, ate more bay scallops forcing some local fisheries to close. Once the scallops were no longer plentiful, the rays moved on to clams and quahogs forcing many restaurants to remove clam chowder from their menus. Moral of the story…sharks are good for the economy.
Sharks help maintain coral reefs by feeding on large predatory fish, such as Groupers. When these fish are not kept in check they feed on herbivores leading to more microalgae which leads to the deterioration of coral. Also, sharks feed on weak and sick species helping to maintain a healthy ocean. Ipso-facto sharks are good for the environment. In short – without sharks, our oceans would die – and if our oceans die…we die.
Despite mountains of scientific evidence extolling them, sharks are probably the most misunderstood animal on the planet. People seemingly prefer to get their “knowledge” of sharks from Hollywood or facebook memes rather than the scientific community.
My fascination with sharks began at the age of 15 when, quite ironically, my mother took me to see Jaws the night it opened at our local cinema. I had already read the book, so it was the next logical step. Unlike many others it didn’t stop me from swimming. I grew up a stone’s throw from the water and it was one of my favorite summer activities.
Did I sometimes wonder if there was something lurking beneath me?
Sure…but I had also seen the movie Friday the 13th – which didn’t stop me from going to summer camp.
In fact, two years after seeing Jaws I became a certified SCUBA diver in hopes that I would get to see one of these magnificent creatures in person.
I never did…still haven’t, but maybe someday.
Point of interest…Peter Benchley – the author of Jaws – spent his post-Jaws life as one of the world’s biggest shark advocates, at least in part due to the international panic Jaws had created.
Each summer, after shark week, I usually find myself in debates trying to get people to understand that sharks are good…but my voice has little power over a propaganda machine that chums the waters of paranoia with crap like Sharknado.
That’s why I decided to write this post…at least I won’t have to repeat myself as much – I can just give people a link and hope they read with an open mind.
Hopefully it will ease the fears of a few dozen people.
I’d love to stop the wanton killing of sharks, but for that I’d need a bigger audience.
As always – thank you for reading