Total Pageviews

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sharks: Maneaters or Victims of Mankind?

I'm not exactly sure when my love of sharks began as they captured my interest but, unlike my faith in mankind and its treatment of our animals and sea life, it is stronger than ever.

Since my youngest days that I can remember, sharks have been labeled as a "maneater" and movies like "Jaws" certainly capitalized on that idea, supporting the lies that we've all been told for years. The reputation that sharks have been given for years, and the lies that are being told about them, were challenged by biologist and photographer Rob Stewart in "Sharkwater", a film that reveals the truth about sharks with graphic footage and stunning photography.

The tagline "the truth will surface" rings true as a series of statistics are presented at different parts of the film, which prove that all theories about sharks and their tendencies towards attacking are completely inaccurate. At one point, it's even stated that less people die from shark attacks than from accidents involving soda vending machines.

One statistic not included in the film, but that I find both fascinating and eye-opening:
It is estimated that a person's chance of getting attacked by a shark is 1 in 11.5 million, and a person's chance of getting killed by a shark is 1 in 264.1 million. The annual number of people who drown is 3,306, as the annual number of shark fatalities is 1. In comparison, humans kill 100 million sharks each year.

Shark finning is to blame for a huge percentage of shark deaths every year. During one of the more graphic portions of Sharkwater, footage captures poachers pulling small sharks from the ocean onto their boat. They slice off the dorsal fin and throw the sharks back; they fall to the ocean floor, suffering in pain until they're eaten alive or die from blood loss. I watched this footage with tears in my eyes and disgust in my heart, and feeling shame for being part of this human race that is capable of such cruel behavior, and all for status. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in China and other Asian countries, and those who serve it are held in high regard. Finning is illegal in 16 countries but still goes on in other areas with high concentration of sharks in their waters like Costa Rica where the fight against finning continues. Finning reminds me of the scene in "Dances With Wolves" where Kevin Costner's character reaches the top of a hill where he is met with the saddening vision of buffalo carcases laying in the field, having been killed for nothing more than their hides. One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and responsible for more than 100 million shark deaths annually.

If there is one species that has earned their rightful place on Earth, it is the shark. They have been swimming in our oceans for 400 million years, since before the dinosaurs, and survived the mass extinction events that wiped out the dinosaurs. Crocodiles kill as many people in one year as are killed from 100 years of shark attacks, yet crocodiles are protected. Of the 307 shark species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 50 are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, but only the white, whale and basking sharks are protected internationally.

There are people out there who believe that sharks are nothing more than mindless killing machines, yet only 20 percent of all shark species are able to hurt people and the number of deaths by shark attack per year is 1, as mentioned above. Most people would agree that they would not dare walk into a lion's den or a bear cave, mostly out of fear but also respect. There is no difference between that scenario and a diver or surfer entering the ocean. The ocean is home to whales, dolphins, sharks, fish and many other species of creatures. From below the surface a surfer on a board looks like a seal, which is the prey of sharks. Sharks need to eat to survive, just like all species. Sharks are very intelligent but they rely on other senses as much as or more than sight.

There are different types of attacks, and ways to prevent being attacked. The different types of attacks are provoked (humans touching shark), unprovoked (no reason for attack), hit-and-run (shark bites and leaves), sneak attack (in deep waters, can be fatal), and bite-and-bump attack (shark bumps before biting, usually exploratory). The sneak attack is most similar to the scenario I mentioned above where a shark attacks because the subject appears to be prey, like a seal (closely resembled by surfer on board). The shark will surge from the depths towards the surface, attacking from below. Footage from many sources shows this type of attack on a seal, in which the shark's body fully breaches the water. Sharks are the ultimate ocean predator so they have little fear of any creature they cross paths with. They do not have sensitive limbs like we do, so their only means of exploring a foreign object or creature is to bite it. Sharks normally make one swift attack and then retreat to wait for the victim to die or exhaust itself before returning to feed. This protects the shark from injury from a wounded and aggressive target; in cases of bites on humans, it allows humans time to get out of the water and survive.

There are ways to greatly reduce (not eliminate) the risk of being attacked by a shark:
  • Avoid the water at dawn, dusk or late night, when sharks tend to feed
  • Avoid areas where sharks generally populate, such as murky waters and drop-offs
  • Do not enter the water with open wounds (no bleeding)
  • Always swim in groups if you're in areas known to be inhabited by sharks, and in general
  • Always obey authority in the area who may be familiar with shark behavior
  • Sharks are usually found nearby in areas where Dolphins are, they eat the same food
  • Use common sense and respect the fact that all sharks are wild animals and we are entering their home and cannot predict their behavior

In the time it takes you to watch the Sharkwater film, more than 15,000 sharks will have been killed. Shark populations have been reduced by 90 percent over the last 50 years, proving that they could easily be wiped out with a few years of human greed in the finning industry.

Number of deaths from sharks per year: 5
Bees/wasps: 53
Elephants and tigers: 100
execution: 2400
illegal drugs: 22,000
road accidents: 1.2M
starvation 8M

The campaign against sharks is also a campaign against humanity and the environment, as sharks play a vital role in the ocean's ecosystem. It is the result of greed and ignorance that sharks are now endangered and at high risk for extinction our lifetime, which will have consequences that we cannot possibly imagine. Anyone who wishes to debate the truth about sharks with me, or to share information or stories, please feel free to contact me via email or comments. Increasing our knowledge about sharks, and continued support for the organizations that protect them, is their only hope for continued survival, and for ours.

No comments: