Misconceptions about sharks

Raagni Krishna, staff writer

If one were to think of sharks, the first image that would probably come to mind is one that is scary, nightmarish, stalkerish even. But in reality, sharks are not the feared creatures they are always lumped up to be. The idea that humans are afraid of sharks is almost humorous in the sense that sharks should instead be afraid  of humans. As it is humans who are causing massive pollution, climate change and more. All this combined kills droves of sharks daily. Keep in mind that the root of anti-shark culture comes from the media. Sharks are actually closer to the status of endangered than people think. Discrimination against sharks is not only unfair but unjust. 

 

In the summer of 1975, a blockbuster movie, Jaws, was released and quickly rose to become widely considered one of the best movies of the time. But along with it, the movie brought one major problematic belief: Sharks are vengeful beasts. The key issue with this movie is that the shark is portrayed with an raw, insatiable desire to kill as well as  how killing humans is one of their “natural instincts”. This is not remotely correct. After the release of this movie, men and women set out to fish sharks without remorse, as they were taught that sharks were man-killing monsters. During the time span from the release of Jaws to the beginning of the 21st century, biologist Julia Baum suggests that “there was a population decline of 89% in hammerhead sharks, 79% in great white sharks and 65% in tiger sharks.” When the basic biology of a shark is taken into consideration, even then, their instinct is not to eat people but to survive. In the rare event where a shark hurts or kills someone, it is either because they mistakenly thought of the moving of a person for food, or to check if humans are suitable prey for them. Sharks do cause 5-15 fatalities each year, but in contrast humans kill over 100 million sharks every year. This is equivalent to 11,000 dead sharks every hour.

 

Sharks are not widely known as an endangered species, but in reality seventeen out of the fifty-eight evaluated species of sharks are facing extinction, almost 30 percent! Why? A number of reasons contribute to the slow extinction of sharks: pollution, climate change, reproduction rate and killings. Despite small and minimal regulations enacted from countries such as Canada, parts of the US, and South Africa, many countries still have not banned the trade or fishing of sharks, even when they are in the red list. This is a list that contains species that are on the verge of extinction and need to be protected by all means. Ironically, this has encouraged more individuals to bait and fish sharks for extra income. A non-profit organization, OCEARCH, has tried to put an end to this by tagging a 2,000 pound shark to lead them to more great whites as they are in a vulnerable state. OCEARCH feels confident that Unama’ki, a tagged female great white shark, can lead them to a potential birthing site or nursery. 

 

Sharks are also very important in their ecosystems, especially for aquatic population control. Since sharks are at the top of the food chain – excluding humans in this case – they play a crucial part in the function of not only other animals, but plant life as well. Let us say that sharks are now extinct. Because this species is an apex predator, all the prey would now double or even triple in size due to the lack of predators. Turtles, for example, would now spread out, reproduce and more importantly destroy seagrass due to overeating. This would now affect the fish that call this seabed as their home. An enormous and devastating ripple effect would take place, uphinging the entire aquatic world, placing it in shock and potential collapse. 

 

Humans combined self-inflict much more harm onto themselves as a species than sharks do to us. Illegal shark fishing should be punished and such laws need to be enforced in a more effective manner.