Here in Los Angeles, and even further away, we’ve had sharks on the brain recently. From the July 5 Manhattan Beach pier shark bite incident, to numerous August juvenile shark sightings—the most dramatic of which prompted temporary San Clemente beach closures—we can’t seem to get these apex predators off our minds. Add to that Discovery Channel’s recent airing of its 27th annual Shark Week, and the impending 40th anniversary of the movie Jaws, and you have a recipe for shark obsession.
Unfortunately, the overall-arching theme of this recent shark fixation is fear. Sharks are often depicted as gigantic, mindless eating machines lurking beneath the waters waiting for their next unsuspecting swimmer snack. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. According to Oceana: “Over the past five years (2006-2010), an average of 4.2 fatal shark attacks have taken place each year world-wide.”
Compare that to the number of sharks killed by humans. New statistics from the most comprehensive study on illegal shark killing ever completed estimate that 100 million sharks are killed every year around the world. This number far exceeds what many shark populations need to recover. Ironically, the sharks should be afraid of us, not the other way around.
With 350 known species that range in size and shape from the great whale shark (40 feet long) to the dwarf shark (6 inches long), sharks are ancient creatures, and have been around longer than any other animal, probably as many as 400 million years. Sharks are beautiful, fascinating creatures for scuba divers to observe underwater. So to quote Bruce-the-shark from the movie Finding Nemo: “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Sharks are friends. Let’s protect them, not fear them. by Tim Yeo