Scared of sharks?

shark usfws

Photo credit: Wyland, USFWS Headquarters

Sharks get such a bad rap – but they’re really not that bad. Here’s why.

There are many many dangers we are much more likely to come across in our daily lives, most of which we don’t even think twice about. For example, many of us have dogs as pets, but did you know that dogs kill 30 people each year in the USA alone? Feel like a snack? Well make sure it’s not a hot dog because hot dogs kill 70 children annually. Thinking about taking a vacation? Well, have fun, just don’t drive there, because over 40,000 people are killed on the road every year in car accidents (and that’s just in the US). Don’t take the plane either… 1,200 deaths! If you’re feeling a bit worn out thinking about all these things that are much more dangerous than sharks maybe you better lie down and have a rest – strap yourself in though because 450 people die each year just by falling out of bed! Hey, maybe the ocean isn’t so bad after all! But watch out for those jellyfish, apparently they kill 40 people every year.

So how many people are killed by sharks each year? The average is about 5, worldwide. Stay out of the ocean and stick to swimming pools and you can reduce the risk to zero. But if you want to live dangerously and swim, surf or dive in areas where there might be sharks you can reduce the chances of being attacked by taking a few sensible precautions, such as not swimming at dawn or dusk (which is a favorite feeding time for sharks), reducing splashing and movement as much as possible, and avoiding bright clothing (sharks are real bling junkies). Also, don’t swim if bleeding (including menstruating), and avoid areas where sharks may be hunting prey. If you want to go shark diving, go with other people who know what they are doing, and learn how you should behave around sharks. You need to understand shark behaviour before you start swimming with them!

It’s also worth remembering that there are literally hundreds of species of sharks, and only ten of them are remotely dangerous to humans. Three species of shark – the great white, bull, and tiger sharks are responsible for over half of all lethal attacks. So stay away from those three and you’re pretty safe.

Given that most people’s chances of getting even a nibble from a shark are practically zero, why are we so afraid of them? Well, sharks live in an environment that most of us are not comfortable with and in which we can not survive for any length of time. Humans evolved out of the oceans millions of years ago; our limbs are no longer designed for use in the water. Add to that the fact that there is something deeply primitive and impenetrable about such a huge expanse of water. We’re woefully out of our depth in the ocean – we can’t swim under water for more than a few seconds without using special breathing apparatus. The shark, by contrast, is the master of the ocean, being perfectly adapted over 400 million years to hunt and kill its prey at speed. These fears have been expolited and magnified by films like Jaws as well as the constant media reporting on shark attacks and shark sightings.

But the facts speak for themselves: the reputation of sharks as a man killer is unfounded. Sharks, however have good reason to fear humans. Populations of many shark species have plummeted over the last few decades because we kill tens of millions of them every year, often just for their fins. It’s time to get the facts straight about sharks. They’re not mindless killers… in fact, they’re probably the good guys.