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Swimming with the sharks of La Jolla – Yahoo! Weather

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Swimming with the sharks of La Jolla – Yahoo! Weather.

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Enormous Mako Shark Stomach Dissected – Yahoo! News

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Enormous Mako Shark Stomach Dissected – Yahoo! News.

It’s Shark Week!

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As shark week comes to a close I would like to take a moment to discuss these magnificent creatures. As I child I had a fear of most predatory animals, though I had very little real world experience with them to set the foundation of this fear. However this fear led me to learn about them. While originally intended to teach me how to protect my selves from these “monsters”, what I learned taught me to respect and love these creatures rather than hate and fear them. I have stated this before during my post on wolves, the link to which can be found at the end of this post, and it has been the same in regards to my relationship with sharks. I have found myself in the water with sharks on numerous occasions throughout my life and I have never felt like I was in any danger. For instance while in the Galapagos Islands I swam with species such as Galapagos sharks, white tips, and hammerheads. I have even been in the water with the feared bull shark while snorkeling near Key West, Florida though I was not fortunate enough to see the shark personally (it was spotted and identified by our captain).

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I will say I was overall disappointed with the programming on Shark Week this year. In fact I gave up watching it after the first three days as this years programming seems to have lost the focus of what Shark Week is about. With mockumentaries like “Megalodon” and countdowns of the most dangerous sharks in the world the overall theme this year seemed to be “it is not safe to go in the water”. Meanwhile, discussion of shark conservation and real facts about sharks was more or less limited to flashcards between shows and commercial breaks. So I wanted to take the time to correct this lack of focus by Discovery Channel and have a real discussion on sharks and shark conservation.

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Sharks should rightly fear us much more than we fear them. On average there are only four people a year killed by sharks. While there are certainly more attacks than this, the number of human victims of sharks pales in comparison to the number of sharks harmed by humans each year. In fact, it is estimated that humans kill anywhere from 70 million to 100 million sharks each year. This persecution by humans has led 20% of shark species to the brink of extinction. Many of these deaths are accidental due to indiscriminate fishing practices, however a large portion of this killing is intentional to feed demand for shark products in Asia. Anyone who has watched shark week has likely heard of the demand for shark fin soup which is considered a delicacy in China. However, a less known use of sharks is for their cartilage which is believed to fight cancer. This by the way is false and science has proven that chemicals in shark cartilage can actually be harmful to humans.

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While the overall theme this year may paint sharks as ravenous killers this is certainly not the case. Only 20 species of sharks, out of the 350+ recorded species, are known to attack humans. Great white sharks, some of the most feared in the world, are actually picky eaters. Often they attack once and leave as they can determine with a single bite whether or not the target will satisfy its nutritional needs. This is why many humans receive “test bites” rather than full on predatory attacks.

Literature cited:

https://wildlifeconservation101.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/wolf-hunting-opens-in-wisconsin/

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/shark-week/shark-facts/top-100-shark-facts.htm

http://animal.discovery.com/fish/shark-fishing.htm

Killers of the Deep?

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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