Sharks or humans – who’s the real danger?
One of these is nature’s most dangerous, formidable and downright scary beasties – the other is simply a misunderstood, ocean-cruising fish. The shark may form the basis of many an ocean-faring nightmare, or perhaps the super-villain in a prospering Hollywood blockbuster, but are they really the merciless killers we believe them to be?
There’s no denying that sharks have a public relations problem, a stigma that they just can’t seem to swim away from. But are they really the spectre that haunt the depths of our world oceans? It’s time to look a little closer to home…
Merciless killers or ocean pups?
There are more than 500 known species of shark and as of 2018 only 33 of them have ever been associated in an unprovoked attack on humans – Bull, Great White and Tiger sharks some of the only ones implicated in a fatal attack.
That leaves more than 467 peaceful species, all just going about their day uninterested in whatever body part you’re dangling in front of them. In fact, the majority of sharks feed on prey no larger than you or I – from small critters such as mackerel and squid to even microscopic plankton and seafaring algae – the largest species of shark, the Whale Shark, a self-confessed vegan and lover of all things plankton-based.
Even the most fearsome, carnivorous sharks – Bull, Hammerhead, Great White and Tigers – all prefer ocean-bred meat to your own, skimpy human offerings. Dining on a feast of blubbery marine mammals, as well as large species of fish such as tuna and other, smaller sharks, these carnivorous beasts rely on a high fat content to get their fix.
These meat-eaters, in particular, are extremely skilled hunters and rightfully earn the title, ‘King of the Sea’. Using their countershaded bodies to hide both above and below, these sharks will employ ambush tactics at dusk or dawn to sneak up on their prey, before attacking from blind spots in a series of swift, but calculated lunges to systematically ‘chomp’ on the side of their prey.
Once mortally wounded, the shark will grasp the prey animal in its jaws before diving deep – one large meal often enough to satisfy an appetite for weeks, even months. Daunting and downright terrifying they may be, but one cannot deny that these kingpin sharks are a marvel of nature – in other words, they’re chuffing Jawsome.
When hungry, these creatures may be a little scary – but aren’t we all? With bellies full however, they soon turn into cuddly ocean puppies – just watch the video below if you don’t believe me – the sharks here are Tiger sharks, TIGER SHARKS!
How to prevent and survive a shark attack
Provoked shark attacks make up a significant proportion of recorded incidents worldwide, 20% of attacks in 2017 as a result of these human-shark provocations – according to the ISAF. If you’re grabbing a shark, cornering or even attempting to pick one up – you’re bound to face some sort of angry reception. Easy tiger! Don’t press those buttons…
If you’re unfortunate enough to run into one of these hungry creatures, champing at the bit for its next meal, here are a few handy tips to prevent you becoming shark bait:
· Stick together and swim in groups, sharks are more likely to attack an individual.
· Keep the bodily fluids, blood and urine, out of the water – sharks have a very keen sense of smell.
· Don’t turn your back, and whatever you do, don’t try and swim away – you’re no Michael Phelps. Instead, try to bash the beastie on its nose or in its gills – it’s more than likely just checking you out anyway.
· Say no to bright colours or shiny jewellery, sharks are a stickler for fashion and will try to rob you off these items.
· If this wasn’t obvious enough before, don’t go in the water if sharks have been sighted and do not approach one if you see it in the distance, remember, there’s plenty more fish in the sea.
Avoiding and preventing an attack, or even defending yourself if a shark comes to investigate has a short, succinct list of guidelines, just like the ones above. Is there such a thing to detail the dangers of humans? Now that’s a much trickier one, the law gives it a good go but not even those are extensive enough to catch some of our most villainous individuals.
The killer stigma
Demonised from the early days of humans and perpetuated in modern pop-culture by Hollywood, the shark has always been an ocean-scapegoat, a menace that we need to eradicate from our world. Such misconceptions have lead to an unholy, murderous epidemic among the shark community – human beings killing over 100 million sharks annually – a figure that many deem conservative with 270 million considered closer to the actual figure.
Whether by by catch, illegal hunting or fishing to fuel the colossal shark fin soup market, many shark species have experienced a population decline of 70-90% - a shocking statistic that could spell extinction for many well-known names before the turn of the century.
A coveted delicacy in China, shark fin soup is deeply engrained culturally with its existence dating as far back to the Ming Dynasty. The craze places a monopoly on shark fins, making fishing for these creatures a much more lucrative business than regulated, traditional fishing. Fishermen can get, on average, $650/kg of shark fin – but some, larger and rarer fins can sell for anything between $20,000-$50,000.
Landing a shark isn’t too difficult, considering the amount of chum some vessels will throw into the water, but pulling it aboard the boat can often prove a laborious job so the fishermen will trap the shark and slice off the fin directly before kicking the helpless shark back into the deep blue. Without fins, the shark can’t swim – sinking, it will bleed to death as it descends to the ocean floor, destined to become the next meal of another ocean scavenger.
Despite being tasteless, and added to the soup for their “chewy but crunchy” texture, the Chinese continue to place a demand on shark fins – mythical health boosting properties and improved sexual potency the ‘justification' behind such a merciless practice.
With countless documentaries, such as 2006’s epic – Sharkwater – and many more, celebrity backed anti-finning policies, the Chinese shark-fin soup industry and demand has seen somewhat of a decline over recent years – the government banning it at all official events, as well as outlawing the practice across much of the country. Some say the demand has cut by 70% as a result, but this figure could be seen as optimistic, many illegal and undocumented catches not taken into account.
A decline in apex predators, as a result of merciless human killings, has dramatic and unprecedented ocean-wide effects – throwing ecosystems and food chains out of balance, as well as degrading vital, life-bearing habitats. Like many land-based apex predators, sharks are the cornerstones of their surroundings – limiting overpopulation in herbivorous species that would otherwise destroy, lush, green oceanscapes.
A simple numbers game here would tell you who the real menace is, plaguing our oceans – us.
Bigger fish to fry
Sharks are a mere drop in the ocean in our world of environmental, political and socio-economic troubles. Last year, they took the lives of five individuals – compared to the 60,000 annual deaths caused by global-warming induced natural disasters.
The real menace, and danger to our world, lies a little closer to home than our ocean-faring, cuddly beasts – human-induced climate change having a dramatic effect on vulnerable individuals both directly and indirectly.
Not only is self-induced climate change killing our own, it’s also harming those we share the world with – from the land to the ocean, nowhere has been left untouched by human hand. Global warming and ocean pollution have also been blamed for a sharp rise in shark attacks in recent years, a 2016 study found, pinning the blame on ourselves for incidents we otherwise ascribed to another, innocent animal.
We’re fish out of water and have little place in our world’s oceans – time to give them a thorough clean, create policy to protect them, and leave mother nature to do the rest.
To do your bit in cleaning up our oceans, why not visit our shop and peruse the 4Ocean collection – one bracelet pulls a pound a plastic from the world’s oceans – sharks, whales, turtles and all manner of ocean critters will thank you for doing so.