Sharks – Endangered or Dangerous?

 

Sharks – Endangered or Dangerous?

Sharks have a bad reputation for attacking and killing humans due to films such as ‘Jaws’, ‘The Meg’, and ‘The Shallows’ which promote this stereotype. While sharks are sharp sighted and prone to taking taste tests, they generally don’t like the taste of human blood. One of the main reasons that sharks actually attack humans is due to humans looking like seals when swimming – or at least sharks think they do. It’s for this reason that sharks conduct taste tests, where they come up to the surface and attack their prey to see if they’ll like it (the equivalent of going into an ice cream shop and asking to taste flavours, except far more dangerous). More often than not they don’t like the taste of human meat so they won't attack further (let’s be realistic here, if someone survives a shark attack, it’s because the shark lets them).

It is doubtful that the smell of human blood would send a shark into a frenzy (although I wouldn’t recommend getting into shark-infested waters with an open wound), it’s doubtful they would attack, and if they do it is unlikely that someone would receive a severe wound (although not impossible).

 

This may explain why there are only roughly 10 deaths due to shark attacks annually because sharks don’t generally attack people, even though we are made to believe they do. Hollywood uses Sharks as one of their main antagonists for films where an animal is the villain, likely due to them being the apex predator of the ocean and having 300 teeth.

 

However, sharks are more endangered than they are dangerous. Currently, 30% of shark species (of which there are more than 1000) are endangered, and even more are at risk of becoming endangered. This is likely due to an increase in demand for shark fins and meat which are often used in expensive Asian soups. The demand for sharks outweighs the supply, as sharks take many years to mature and produce new young and this means that they are being hunted at a higher rate than they are reproducing.

 

Between 2011 and 2018 there was an 80% drop in demand for shark-based soups in China, however, there has been a rise in demand in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Macau. Despite the lack of nutritional benefits of shark fins, it still remains a favourite and expensive dish of many. Of the 100 million sharks that are killed annually by humans, the parts of 73 million of these sharks end up in soup.

 

After further research, I found that sharks aren’t that deadly at all in comparison to other animals. According to worldatlas.com, mosquitos kill the most people annually (725000), followed by humans (475000), snakes (50000) and in dogs (25000). You are more likely to be killed by your neighbour, or your dog than you are by a shark, and yet sharks are still seen as evil animals – as the antagonists not only in Hollywood films but also in real life.

However, in large it is due to the stereotypes that Hollywood promotes about sharks that people are less inclined to protect them. We are made to believe that sharks are big and scary, so when they become endangered it is easier to turn a blind eye – after all, the extinction of sharks can only be good for humanity, right?

Not quite. Sharks are the apex predator of the oceans, which means they’re at the top of the food chain, and responsible for maintaining the delicate balance of marine life.

In comparison, when wolves were eradicated from the Scotland between the thirteenth to fifteenth century it led to the overpopulation of deer, which then led to them eating crops, walking into roads, and spreading Lyme disease. When you eradicate the apex predator, the balance of the ecosystem is thrown off. So, while you’re eliminating one problem you could be creating even more.

Sharks are mainly threated because of overfishing. They get caught in fishing nets and open ocean longlines and despite how vast the ocean is, there are few refuges from industrial fishing for sharks. Reef sharks in particular, are threated due to damage to reefs and other key habitats, the clearance of ‘mangroves’ (shark use these as nursery grounds for their young), and the fact that many types of fish that humans eat, come from reefs and are therefore targeted by fishers (taking the sharks’ food supply and potentially catching sharks as well).

 

Sharks have been given a bad reputation by the media which portrays them as the villains of the ocean and a huge danger to humans, when in reality they are maintaining the ocean's ecosystem. You’re more likely to be killed by a toaster, or a vending machine than by a shark. This harmful stereotype around sharks has led to many people feeling comfortable with turning a blind eye to the destruction of a species and its habitat. While we are led to believe that sharks kill thousands of people annually and are a huge threat to humanity, in reality they only kill 10 people.

 

I’m not saying that sharks are safe – in fact if you are in the water and you see one swimming towards you, please get out of the water just to be safe. But they aren’t the villains we are led to believe they are, humans kill more sharks than sharks kill humans per year, with a difference of 99999990 more sharks killed than humans.

 

In the short 2 million years that humans have been around, we have caused more damage and destruction to the planet than sharks have in 450million years of existence. These animals have seen the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, of the pyramids. They have seen kingdoms come and go, and wars end. Sharks have seen the turn of the century millions of times, and due to threats that humanity has created they are at risk of going extinct.

We need to do better.

Sources:

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/shark

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/14/even-as-china-turns-away-from-shark-fin-soup-the-prestige-dish-is-gaining-popularity-elsewhere-in-asia/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5aa55bd9760e

 

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2004/01/great-white-shark-myths/