News: Sharks will be sharks

Meaning we kill them, they don't kill us

April 8th, 2018

On a scale of 1 to couldn't finish watching 'Jaws,' how scared are you of getting eaten by a shark? If you are answer is anything higher than "this is a ridiculous question" (which is just below 1 FYI), then I have good news for you: the data shows that sharks are still statistically not a threat to human beings. We continue to chop off their arms before sending them to drown a horrible death, though. That's the bad news.

The International Shark Attack File (which should be renamed to the International Lack of Shark Attack File) reported 155 total cases of human-shark interaction for 2017. 30 of these were provoked by humans, 18 were actually shark-boat interactions, and another handful were probably not even sharks at all. Only 88 interactions (roughly 56% of the total) were unprovoked attacks, five of which were fatal. You can see the geographic distribution in the graphic below. 

 Courtesy of the  Florida Museum

Courtesy of the Florida Museum

Obviously being hurt or killed by a shark is an extremely significant event in the lives of the individual and their loved ones, but statistically speaking, sharks are less of a threat to humans than pretty much anything that is capable of ending human life. It's the concept of a shark-induced death which makes them scary; it's a deeply unpleasant way to die. I was terrified of spiders for years without having any worry that one might kill me, so I get it.

But fearing sharks makes it easier to ignore their human-caused disappearance from the ocean, and the negative impact this has on marine ecosystems, so it would be a disservice to the 465 known shark species to treat this generalized fear as acceptable. Plus it's mostly just Great White Sharks that get people freaking out, but a wide variety of species that are killed for their fins. If the gentle whale shark could talk it would probably be asking, "what the fuck?"

It's estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every year for shark fin soup, which tastes like nothing and has no nutritional value. Even though China's consumption of the ill-advised meat has fallen by 80% since kindhearted celebrities urged citizens to cut it out, shark fin soup's popularity has risen in other countries like Taiwan and Indonesia. 

         I don't have any shark photos, but I did encounter a hammerhead shark here in the Galapagos.

       I don't have any shark photos, but I did encounter a hammerhead shark here in the Galapagos.

So eating sharks isn't really a fair punishment for their eating of us, since they basically don't do it. The worldwide population of humans is only getting larger, meaning more people are getting in the water, yet the Florida Museum's shark attack file shows human-shark interactions at numbers that are consistent with the smaller populations of years past. Essentially, there should be more shark attacks, but there aren't. 

It's 2018, and the only thing that has changed when it comes to sharks is how much we are damaging them, not the other way around. Hopefully as people realize (and accept) this fact, greater sympathy can be fostered on their behalf.

 

 

Over and out,

Ali Wunderman

 

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