Shark Bite Pic Looks Bad -- but What's the Danger?

"I think that's a primordial fear that we have as humans to being eaten by another animal," he said. I think it goes way back into the Stone Age era. And it's still deeply built into our psyche, this fear of being eaten."

True, the great white has the perfect set of jaws to cut you. However, almost every other type of shark does not have teeth designed to eat large chunks of flesh. And anyway they're usually too scared of us to attack.

Swimming with the Sharks

To demonstrate, we were invited to dive into a tank filled with sharks.

We approached a large tank where, feet away, was an enormous, toothy shark wearing a blankly menacing look on its face. It's a good thing abject terror can't register on your face when you're wearing goggles.

It's also good that these gray nurse sharks don't eat humans. They pretty much ignored us.

Shark experts wish that more people would learn the lesson (although not necessarily by jumping in a shark tank). Sharks, they say, get a bad rap. And they don't hesitate to blame ... the movie "Jaws."

After "Jaws" came out in 1975, it not only provoked widespread public fear and loathing of sharks but also dried up research funding to better understand these animals. All of which created an environment where sharks are now being hunted nearly out of existence.

"We think sharks should be the new whale," said Kindsleysides. "Globally there's only 10 percent of the sharks left that we had 50 years ago. Where have they gone? Well, we've eaten them."

'They're Beautiful'

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia, and in some parts of the United States. A staggering 100 million sharks are caught every year to meet the demand. That's 270,000 sharks a day.

They're killed in a barbaric practice called "finning," in which fishermen drag sharks onto a boat, cut off their fins and then throw them back in the water to die.

Even as shark populations drop all over there world, there is not much of a public outcry. It's hard to build a constituency for an animal with a motto like: "Sharks: they 'usually' won't kill you."

"If we want a healthy ecosystem," said Peddemors, "we have to maintain a balance, and sharks are critically important to that."

Sharks can live up to 100 years, and they usually only have a few pups during that time. So if they're heavily fished, populations can plunge fast -- and take a long time to recover.

If the predator at the top of the food chain disappears, it can mess up the rest of the fish population, which the world needs for food.

Sharks, Peddemors said, have shown admirable evolutionary endurance.

"If you think about it," said Peddemors, "they're pretty much in the form as what they are now for millions of years, long before we started walking the earth. So they've evolved into the perfect predator. They slipstream beautifully though the water."

An apex predator that survived since the age of the dinosaurs, sharks may not survive the age of humans. For all the bad publicity they get, the truth is that sharks should be more afraid of us than we are of them.

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