I believe sharks are some of the most popular animals in the world. Whether you love them, hate them, fear them, or respect them chances are you have at least heard of them, and more likely than not you have watched Steven Spielberg’s infamous “JAWS” at least once.
So are sharks really the bloodthirsty man-killers tv and movies have made them out to be? Are they apex predators who have placed unsuspecting surfers at the top of their preferred menu items? Or are sharks misunderstood?
The truth is sharks are grossly misunderstood and not only are they not out to get you, but they also play an extremely important role when it comes to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.
Today you will learn why sharks as so misunderstood, how un-biased shark myths jeopardize their conservation, and more.
Let’s get right to it!
Are Sharks Really Misunderstood?
When you consider that every year there are only about 80 shark attacks worldwide, of which less than 10 result in the death of a human we can conclude that sharks are really just misunderstood.
If you think this number is too high and sharks should be considered a threat to your existence let’s take a quick look at how the less than 10 shark-provoked deaths compare to other everyday activities that pose a risk to your life:
- 1.35 million people die every year due to car accidents.
- 725,000 people a year are killed by mosquitoes worldwide.
- 150 people die every year from a coconut falling on their head.
- 250,000 people die from firearm wounds.
- 2,000 people die worldwide every year from being struck by lightning.
- And lastly, 50 people are killed by dogs yearly.
So you are five times more likely to be killed by your pet dog at home than you are to be killed by a shark.
Why Are Sharks So Misunderstood?
Before 1975 sharks were not normally on anyone’s mind. A beachgoer or bather could have a million things on his or her mind but the possibility of a shark attack was definitely not one of them. Overall, sharks just weren’t of anyone’s interest, not even scientists really.
So what happened after 1975 you may be wondering? On June 18 of that year, JAWS came out in movie theaters quickly becoming a major blockbuster and making people worldwide absolutely terrified of sharks and just getting into the water in general.
“It lives to kill. A mindless eating machine. It will attack and devour anything. It is as if God created the devil, and gave it…jaws.”
These were the opening sentences of the first trailer of the movie “JAWS”, not the best image of these otherwise widely unknown sea creatures.
The negative light in which sharks were portrayed by Hollywood led to shark populations across the globe plummeting as they became the main target of hunters and fishermen that suddenly focused their attention on the new trophy animal.
The only positive thing that came from “Jaws” coming out was that scientists finally turned their attention to this animal which quickly became heavily studied and the importance of their ecological role was soon evident.
Sharks Are Some Of The Most Misunderstood Animals In The World
It’s not hard to see why sharks became so feared, what is shocking and terribly sad if you ask me is the fact that 47 years after the release of this infamous film they are still considered mindless demons that must be eradicated at all costs when science has proven otherwise time and time again.
Let’s dive a little deeper (pun intended) and inspect the proofs that show sharks are definitely some of the most misunderstood animals in the world:
Even though Hollywood still insists on portraying sharks as lovers of human flesh truth is these fish are incredibly picky eaters and human meat is not something they enjoy.
Studies have shown sharks respond very well to the smell of pinnipeds and fish. Human smell? Not so much.
Besides the not-so-yummy taste, humans also have so many bones that a shark would have a hard time digesting such a bony meal.
It is a proven fact that the majority of shark attacks happen to surfers. I want you to imagine something real quick, visualize yourself as a shark, you’re looking for a tasty meal like a seal or sea turtle and suddenly look up.
The sun is shining brightly above the surface, you see a dark shape and it resembles exactly what you were looking for.
You immediately swim up and take a bite and turns out it wasn’t what you expected. It was a surfer on a board. You swim away and continue looking for a meal.
Can you see how a surfer on a board could easily resemble a sea turtle, sea lion, or seal? It is an awful situation for any human to be in but it is also unfair on the shark to just assume it’s out to kill humans.
If a shark sees some splashing and movement around the surface it is likely to come closer to inspect what it’s about.
If the shark believes the splashing is caused by a possible prey item it will try to take a bite.
Proof that sharks don’t really want to eat a human is the fact that in fatal shark attacks the victim usually dies from blood loss and there are no confirmed reports of a shark ever eating a human.
The Dangers Of Shark Myths
There are countless myths when it comes to sharks that are not only untrue but are also causing terrible harm to shark populations worldwide.
Over 100 million sharks are estimated to be killed annually by fisheries and people who come close to a shark and believe it is better off dead.
Out of the more than 500 different species of shark around 150 are considered “endangered”, “critically endangered”, “near threatened”, or “vulnerable” and most populations have been depleted by almost 90%
Despite the fact that there is now widely available information regarding sharks, their roles in the ecosystem, and the harmless nature of most species (such as the whale shark for example) it is unfortunate that still, so many people view them as the enemy.
Popular sayings like “the only good shark is a dead shark” continue to promote violence towards this truly incredible fish and all I can hope is that as a whole humans quickly realize that the only way to thrive as a species is by respecting everything in our natural world.
Sharks are misunderstood, and they likely will be for many years to come with no thanks to the media and films like JAWS.
Keep this in mind when you’re out on the water and come across a shark, it will hopefully help you in educating friends and family and keep yourself calm around these majestic creatures.
I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂