When you think of sharks, the movie “Jaws” might pop in your mind. That image of a massive great white stalking people on Amity Island is enough to make you never want to go into the ocean ever again. But like all Hollywood movies, they’re just for entertainment and “Jaws” put a bad taste in people’s mouths when it comes to sharks. But the reality is, sharks don’t go after humans. They aren’t maliciously trying to eat every surfer, diver or swimmer they come into contact with. Despite being one of the oceans’ top predators (the orca being another), sharks aren’t as bad as many think they are. They’re just misunderstood giants that get a bad rep!
Are sharks dangerous? Yes, they can be. But so can an elephant, rhino and hippo. All wild animals have the potential for being dangerous. Sharks are simply misunderstood due to the various misconceptions people have about them. Despite what you see in movies, sharks don’t attack people because they want to. They attack surfers because they mistake them for sea lions or other prey. And if you swim away from them, they’ll mistake you for prey given that all prey swims away from sharks.
Despite what we know about sharks, it isn’t enough. We actually know very little about them given how hard it is to study an animal that never comes to the surface to breathe. We don’t know much about its parenting, courtship, socialising or communication. All we know is their eating behaviour. Although the white shark is the one shark we all know of, there are more than 509 known shark species that we know little about. However, we are learning more about them thanks to the many interested researchers who help us better understand this creature. Things like Shark Week also help bring awareness about the various types of sharks that call our oceans home.
They have personalities just like any other animals on Earth and live complex, rich lives when left alone. They’re also fast learners and build complex maps in their heads, which allow them to travel long distances over and over again. We’re barely starting to understand a shark’s communication skills, which might make them more relatable creatures once we fully comprehend their majestic nature.
In fact, sharks can actually help mankind in various different ways! There have been a few breakthroughs into research for cancer, MRSA, heart attack, strokes and Alzheimer’s thanks to studying sharks. But the truth is, sharks are becoming endangered because of a variety of reasons. It’s estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each and every year by commercial fishing for shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in China. But they are critical in the marine food chain. When sharks are gone, that means predators in the middle of the food chain will have no one to eat them, thus destroying our fish stocks. This can also affect the world’s coral reefs, causing much damage to various marine ecosystems.
Sharks also influence the economy via ecotourism. For instance, tourists can see life reef sharks up close in the Bahamas by paying a fee. Communities relaying on such ecotourism will start to feel its negative effects if sharks are out of the equation.
So what can you do to help save sharks? Bring about more awareness on them! Sharks have survived on Earth for more than 450 million years, but their numbers are dwindling and they can go extinct if we don’t do something about it. Learn as much as you can about sharks, donate to shark conservation organizations and write speak out when to teach other people that we need sharks and shouldn’t be afraid of them!