In Defense of Sharks

duunnn dunnn... duuuunnnn duun... duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn, the theme from Jaws announces the frightening statistics for the growing danger of shark attacks. The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week picks up the beat with sensational shots of the beasts rising out of the water to grab the camera man….and you!

Yes, it’s true, there have been eight known shark-related deaths from sharks around the world this year, up from 5 the previous year. For a little perspective, it is also true that falling out of bed kills 450 people annually, just in the United States. Shopping on Black Friday takes 550 lives, bathtubs: 340, High School Football: 20, vending machines: 13, Coconuts: 150 and believe it or not, champagne corks kill more than 20 people a year.

You get the picture. There have even more people dying to get a selfie (12) than there are deaths from sharks.

Of course it is little consequence to the people who have been killed or attacked by sharks, but we need to gain a new perspective, one that doesn’t feed into the mania for killing these creatures that are critical to marine ecosystems. As explained by Scientific America, these apex predators control the density and behavior of their prey, which indirectly affects the abundance of species further down the food web.

In an odd twist, scientists have now concluded that sharks really don’t like to eat humans. We are just too boney and hard to digest. They much prefer the high fat content of animals like seals. Of the 100-plus annual shark attacks worldwide, a third to a half of this number are attributable to Great White sharks. However, most of these are not fatal, and new research finds that great whites, who are naturally curious, are "sample biting." Upon having a bite, they most often release their distasteful victims. Admittedly, it’s not a terribly comforting distinction, but it does indicate that humans are not actually on the shark’s menu.

Humans kill an astonishing number of sharks every year. Various species are killed in attempts to make beaches safer, and by catch by commercial fishing vessels and trophy catches. The practice of killing sharks only to use the fin for shark fin soup accounts for at least 50 million shark deaths. Shark fin soup is a popular item in Chinese cuisine served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets, or as a luxury item in Chinese culture. The shark fins provide texture, while the taste comes from the other soup ingredients.

While it’s difficult to know exactly the number of sharks killed annually by humans, a study published last year in the journal Marine Policy, using data on shark catches, discards, and mortality rates worldwide, estimated that approximately 100 million sharks are killed per year by humans. However, they add that this is a conservative estimate, and the true number could be as high as 273 million sharks killed annually by humans. At the 100 million number, that is 11,414 per hour.

Shark hunting occurs worldwide and counts for millions of shark deaths per year. License: thesuperstar.org (license)

 

As the site IFLScience points out, all these numbers are a little difficult to get you head around. They provided the infographic below that compares human induced shark mortality with human deaths from shark attacks. It was created by Joe Chernov and the graphic firm Ripetungi. As pointed out by the collaborators, sharks may be one of the most feared animals on the planet, but by the time you scroll down this graphic, 73 more sharks would have been killed.

EcoSmart Designs celebrates the shark as well as hundreds of other animal species as pendants, key fobs, zipper pulls and clip-ons. See our IN THE WILD, ANIMAL TRACKS and SEA LIFE series that are featured on a vibrant story card that contains a brief description of the animal. All of our designs, of course, use our SafePewter brand lead-free metal.

Main Image credit: Hammer from Cocos Island, Costa Rica via photopin (license)

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