“You spend so much time in the ocean, aren’t you worried about sharks?”
It’s a question I get all the time, and the answer is, that yes, I am worried about sharks, just not necessarily worried about being eaten by one.
Now, I can understand why people are fearful of sharks. The media is full of anti-shark propaganda. JAWS and movies like it don’t exactly make you feel warm and fuzzy about our cartilaginous friends. The reality of the situation is that humans pose a much greater threat to sharks than they do to us.
Here is some perspective for you:
In 2003 there were 4 fatal shark attacks worldwide. In contrast, in the US alone the same year:
26 people died as a result of contact with hot tap water (really? hot tap water?),
31 people were killed by pet dogs
47 people were struck by lightning,
66 were killed by hornets, wasps and bees
131 people were hit and killed by deer. (they didn’t hit the deer, Bambi ran into them)
and 5,472 died due to intentional self-poisoning
The truth is, you have a much greater chance of being bit by another human than by a shark. A shark attack is pretty rare, and the chances of that encounter being fatal are even more unlikely.
The other side of this story is what we humans are doing to the worldwide shark population. Research shows that shark populations are diminishing at an astonishing rate due to overfishing, shark finning, habitat destruction and pollution. Here are a few stats from Discovery’s Conservation Infographic:
*Each year, an estimated 73 Million sharks are killed by humans, mainly through fishing. This translates to more than 8,333 sharks killed every hour.
* From 1970 to 2005, populations of smooth hammerheads, bull and dusky sharks along the east coast of the US have declined by 99 percent.
* There are 87 countries still exporting shark fins to Hong Kong for shark fin soup.
While fewer sharks in the ocean may seem like a positive thing for ocean-goers, in reality, these apex predators keep the ocean in balance. If all sharks were to disappear, so too would the trophic levels below them, and the ocean as we know it would change forever.
So yes, I worry about the sharks. I worry that I don’t see more of them. It is difficult to appreciate these animals unless you are lucky enough to see them in their element. Few other creatures are so beautiful and perfectly suited for their environment. I am confident that one safe encounter will forever change the way you see them.
If you would like to help the sharks, the Ocean Conservancy has a petition to support passage of the Shark Conservation Act to end shark finning, and because it is always more fun to fill out forms with some good music, here is a shark song to get you in the mood…