The past few weeks  have been rather busy with both a four week business trip and the start of the new semester. This led to missing several postings and for that I apologize. Now that I am back to business I wanted to start off with a topic inspired by Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

Sharks and humans have a long, often troubled relationship. In ancient times sharks were revered and often considered as Gods or at least to have been sent by a God for some purpose or other. Nowadays sharks are sadly seen as monsters most of the time due to their man eating reputation. But why is it that most people have this inherent fear or hatred of sharks but not of other apex predators such as lions, tigers, or bears (oh my!). Probably the reasoning is that most people live in areas where they are unlikely to see these other predators. On the other hand just about everyone loves to go to the beach or ocean, and must therefore run the risk of encountering sharks. Another possible reason is that encounters with bears and such happen on land where we feel comfortable. Sharks attack us in the water, where we are out of our element and vulnerable. They can make us feel unsafe when in the ocean and therefore society seems to have placed a special kind of hatred on them.

However there are many people trying to overcome this stigma by attempting to understand sharks and share that understanding with the world. It is in their honor, and respect for one of the greatest predators this world has ever seen, that I write this posting and try to share their knowledge.

Out of roughly 350 known species of sharks only 20 species have a history of attacking humans, with most of these attacks being perpetrated by only three species- great white, tiger, and bull sharks (Discovery). But how likely are shark attacks really? It turns out that on average there are only 70 confirmed shark attacks each year  with only around 10 of those being fatal (National). This means that more people die each year driving, giving birth, or going to hospitals. However, humans are much more dangerous to sharks. In fact National Geographic states that shark deaths at human hands range from 20-100 million animals per year and that some species have plummeted as much as 30-50% (National).

The truth is humans are not natural prey for sharks and most attacks are accidents. Those few that are fatal are likely cases of mistaken identity in which the human somehow resembled natural prey and the shark went into predatory mode. Examples of this happen when a great white mistakes a surfer paddling for a seal or a recent case was when a tiger shark reportedly mistook a swimmers camouflage patterned shorts for the pattern of a turtle shell. The bulk of shark “attacks” had been reported as test bites by juvenile sharks simply trying to find out what we humans are.

The fact is that when we enter the ocean we are entering the world of the shark and we must respect them. This respect can only be gained through education and understanding. After all, when a lion attacks someone in the savanna it is commonly accepted that the human was likely at fault for entering the lions domain and breaching its comfort zone. When hikers enter bear country they recognize the risk of running into a bear and thus take precautions to avoid conflicts with the bear. So why not give the same respect to sharks when we enter their world.

References:

Discovery Channel. http://dsc.discovery.com/sharks/shark-o-nator/

National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0613_050613_sharkfacts.html