Sharks are amongst the most feared animals on the planet, with around 48.5% of people worldwide having galeophobia (fear of sharks). But why? With so many people being afraid of these large fish, surely there must be a reasonable explanation as to why we should never go near them. Well, you may have heard many things about these creatures but it might surprise you to find out how many are myths rather than facts.
Why are we so afraid of sharks?
The fear of sharks usually starts from a very young age, despite most children never even having seen a shark before, let alone been attacked by one. The main reason for this is due to the media’s constant emphasis on stereotypes surrounding sharks and their behaviour. Numerous films shown to us throughout our lives influence our perspective on sharks, such as Jaws, The Meg, or even Finding Nemo.
On top of this, news headlines exaggerate the amount of damage sharks do and only highlight the things they do to harm others. They are constantly filled with gory and horrific titles in order to gain an audience, as it feeds into people’s beliefs that have already stemmed from other types of media.
With our evolving technological world, social media is rapidly becoming more and more popular. Social media is filled with people sharing their experiences and fears, with no way of knowing what’s true or not. This can lead to false assumptions and accusations of sharks and more people disliking them for unreasonable explanations.
So what are the most common myths about sharks?
Firstly, many people believe that sharks specifically target humans, and enjoy eating them. However, this is not the case. Sharks most commonly eat invertebrates and large sea animals, such as seals and dolphins, and only about a dozen of the more than 300 species of sharks have been involved in attacks on humans. This shows how very little interest most sharks have in us.
In fact, rather than sharks hunting us, it is the other way around. Around 100 million sharks are killed by humans per year, and they are actively hunted around the world for the different contributions their body parts make to human products, such as medicine, meat and even decorations. For example, shark cartilage is often used as a cure for cancer in some countries, despite it not being a scientifically proven effective method. Many times, people don’t even intend to kill sharks, but due to large fishing nets accidentally catching them alongside the targeted fish, they are not returned to the sea and eventually die. Humans are the number one cause for sharks dying out, due to overfishing and being deprived of food, as well as warmer waters leading to some of their prey dying out from being unable to adapt to the new temperatures. If we don’t act soon to save these poor animals from our actions, they may be extinct very soon.
Another well-known myth is that sharks hunt us due to the smell of our blood. Although sharks can smell our blood, it is not a scent they associate with food and will not attack you for it, as seen in the media.
Sharks are also portrayed in the media to be very large, but really only tend to be about 5 to 7 feet long on average and if you were to be approached by a shark, it would be easier to face it rather than swim away from it, despite their size.
What is the reality of shark attacks?
Per year, there are only 74 unprovoked bites on humans, with only a few being fatal. Surprisingly, dog bites are proven to be five times more fatal than shark bites, yet sharks are more feared. There is also only a 1 in 11.5 million chance of getting attacked, and you are more likely to win a Nobel prize than be attacked. And then even if you were to be attacked, statistics show you have an 89.4% chance of surviving.
What is the beauty of sharks and why should they be loved?
Sharks are a crucial part of our ecosystem and take care of many aspects of it. Without sharks, the species that they prey on would overpopulate, causing less diversity and an imbalance in the food chain. This would make it harder to obtain marine resources and a shortage of these fishes’ food. Sharks maintain biodiversity by taking care of not only fish, but coral reefs and seagrass habitats too. By moving between deep and shallow waters, they carry and transfer key nutrients to different plants in the sea via their excrement, allowing them to grow. This will allow more species and fish to thrive by providing them with food and habitats.
These beautiful creatures have existed for around 420 million years in our waters, and are much older than dinosaurs! They come in a range of different types, such as the whale shark, angel shark and the bamboo shark. Some goblin sharks are even known to be pink! Another interesting fact is that sharks actually don’t have bones, but cartilage instead to allow them to move quickly through the water without using too much energy, as cartilage is much less dense.
If you live in the UK, there are actually no sharks known to be dangerous in the waters surrounding it, and the most common sharks found are the basking, shortfin mako, and Greenland sharks.
In conclusion, sharks are nothing to fear as they will very rarely attack us and are beautiful, important creatures in our world. Instead of killing them due to our fears, we should learn to love them and help them and their habitats thrive. There are multiple ways to support shark conservation, such as; donating money or adopting a shark so the money can go to increasing their numbers, signing petitions to protect their habitats or even something as simple as watching a documentary to educate yourself and others about the wonders of these animals. Any of these could make a large impact on sharks and their future, and even just a simple gesture could make a big difference.
"Sia is a 16-year-old, young woman, who has grown up in London. Sia is passionate about climate change and how it affects wildlife and biodiversity, and she is particularly interested in animals and their roles in shaping and maintaining biodiversity. Sia has been a part of VFF's Young Ambassador Programme since Spring 2023, where she has written blogs and is co-designing an educational workshop on biodiversity."