Shark Attacks: Low Fatality Rates Still Equal High Anxiety

Movies that highlight the dangerous nature of sharks — like the classic 1975 film "Jaws" — are said to be one of the key reasons so many people are terrified of all things shark. While only around 30 species of sharks have a history of attacking humans, people tend to assume that all sharks are dangerous, experts say.

"The big misperception that people have from watching the movies and reading the books is that all sharks are the same and they are equated in people's minds to the great white shark," said Hueter, whose laboratory is the largest in the world focused on the biology of sharks and rays.

As a rule, one expert says, sharks six feet or longer are generally the most dangerous, simply because their size alone can harm an average human on contact.

Man-Eating Shark

While humans may worry about their next swim in the ocean, researchers are similarly concerned about the well-being of the shark population, which has been steadily declining over the last few years.

Humans kill approximately 50 million sharks every year, according to Burgess' research.

Overfishing, or when sharks are inadvertently caught by fishermen's nets that are intended for other marine life, is a chief cause of the population decline, says Marie Levine, executive director of Shark Institute and archivist of The Global Shark Attack File.

The high demand for fin soup, an Asian delicacy, is another shark killer, says Levine, along with the destruction of sharks' habitats and pollution.

"[Sharks] are incredibly beautiful animals and are absolutely vital animals," said Levine. "They are desperately in need of protection."

Don't Worry, Even Though We Know You Will

No matter what precautions humans take — from not splashing around in shallow waters to never swimming in warm oceans at night — shark attacks are bound to happen.

The only way to significantly cut your risk of shark attacks is to never enter the ocean at all, experts say, which is an impractical solution to a scenario that very few will encounter in their lifetimes.

"The risk factor of shark attacks is much lower than all the other things that are much more frequent in our daily lives that people shouldn't worry about it," said Hueter. "But we do because of the psychological fear factor of the thought of being eaten alive by an animal. It's hard to get that out of people's minds."

So while you may be a little hesitant the next time you visit the beach, keep in mind that not all sharks are out to get you. In fact, they may be just as scared of you as you are of them.

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