With Shark Week festivities in full flow, many marketing campaigns will surely play on the trope of sharks as bloodthirsty man-eaters. We could have baited you (no pun intended) with a title playing on that trope, but we held ourselves to a higher standard. From ancient legends of sharks as ruthless sea monsters, to modern pop-culture depictions of shark attacks (thanks JAWS!), these sharp-toothed beasts have occupied a dominant place in our imagination. While the prospect of encountering a big shark in the ocean might seem petrifying, and certainly a less than ideal way to go out, such fears are misplaced. Shark attacks are actually exceedingly rare.
"Shark attacks are actually exceedingly rare. The odds of dying from a shark attack are 1 in 8 million. For perspective, you are likelier to die getting hit by an asteroid strike or struck by lightning."
You Might Go Out in A Number of Ways... But It's Probably Not Going to be a Shark Attack
The odds of dying from a shark attack are 1 in 8 million. For perspective, you are likelier to die getting hit by an asteroid strike or struck by lightning. There were 81 sharks attacks in 2016 globally, only 4 of which turned fatal. Surfers and similar ocean sports enthusiasts accounted for 58% of these attacks, because sharks frequent the surf zone and these high-activity sports can potentially provoke them.
The facts are that only a handful of the hundreds of species of sharks have been known to bite humans. The ones that do are mostly curious of the foreign presence of humans in the ocean. Most "shark attacks" are actually not predatory attacks at all — they are investigatory or defensive bites. It's a very safe bet that you probably will never get attacked by a shark with intent to eat you, even in underwater activities like scuba diving and snorkeling.
The Cruelty of Homo-Sapiens: From a Shark's Perspective
The misinformed fear of shark attacks obscures a greater reality: humans are a way bigger threat to sharks. In 2013, an Oceana study estimated that humans kill 100 million sharks a year. Alarmingly, 30% of sharks, ray and related species are facing the risk of extinction. Shark populations are particularly susceptible to rapid decline because they grow very slowly, and mature over decades. Since they are apex predators of the oceans, sharks play an irreplaceable role in regulating fish populations and keeping the marine ecosystem healthy and balanced.
"Over 73 million sharks are mutilated in the worldwide fin trade every year. A shark's fins are cut off while it's still alive, and it's left to sink to the bottom of the ocean to die. Shark fins are used in a soup delicacy, and represent symbols of wealth in China and other parts of Asia."
Over 73 million sharks are mutilated in the worldwide fin trade every year. A shark's fins are cut off while it's still alive, and it's left to sink to the bottom of the ocean to die. Shark fins are used in a soup delicacy, and represent symbols of wealth in China and other parts of Asia. There's cause to be optimistic, however, as attitudes towards shark fin trading are changing.
Sharks are also the victims of large-scale fisheries capturing them accidentally. In 2014, Oceana estimated that global bycatch, or incidental catch, amounted to 40% of the world's catch. Obviously, this is incredibly wasteful and unsustainable.
Love Thy Oceans and Don't Disrespect Its Overlords
In a landmark achievement for shark conservationists, the U.S. signed the Shark Conservation Act into law in 2011. While finning in U.S. waters had been illegal for a while, the Shark Fin Elimination Act was introduced to ban fin trade in an effort to reduce global demand. The Senate Commerce Committee recently advanced the bill.
You can make a difference by urging Congress to pass the Shark Fin Elimination Act and put into law a #finbannow .
You can also play a part in protecting sharks and the oceans by learning about sustainable fishing, buying sustainable seafood, and taking action to protect the oceans which sharks inhabit. And if you're ever in the mood to see some awesome sharks in person, you can through shark ecotourism, an emerging industry which actually happens to have more economic value than shark fin export trade in the U.S.