When asked what they are afraid of when they get in the ocean, many people will say sharks. When asked what they would most like to see in the ocean, those who have been in the water with sharks will likely say sharks. So why the disparity?
Some people have an irrational and debilitating fear of sharks, or galeophobia, even when in swimming pools. Others clamour to get into the water with them; such as Ocean Ramsey who freedives with enormous, supposedly ‘man-eating’ sharks, and encourages others to do the same. These contrasting perspectives on sharks are understandable when we look at how they have been portrayed in the media, and more so when we consider how few people have seen a shark in its natural habitat. Few people truly understand their nature.
Here’s the shark truth. Sharks are not real monsters.
There are many anecdotal statistics, including that more people are killed each year by falling coconuts, lightning, car crashes, taking a selfie, hot tap water, Segway crashes and champagne corks (to name but a few) than by sharks. People have argued that humans are in contact more frequently with all those things than with sharks and it is not a fair comparison when looking at fatalities and risk. Others will respond by reminding people that anytime we step into the ocean we are in the domain of the shark and they deserve our respect as visitors to their world.
How many people get in the ocean each year and how many are attacked by a shark?
In the US alone, approximately 75 million people visit the ocean every year and many of them are in the water for more than just one quick dip. Just over 1,000 of those people are attacked each year, which is approximately 0.0013% of the people who get in the ocean. That’s just over 1/1000th of one per cent.
How many of those attacks are fatal?
Less than four per cent. The chances of being killed by a shark if a person gets in the ocean are at most 0.00005%.
In that case, what is the most dangerous part of diving with sharks?
It’s the car ride back home, the champagne cork popped in celebration and the hot shower taken afterwards. God forbid anyone stops for a selfie.
Sharks do not eat anything and everything that crosses their paths. They have very discerning palates and primarily eat marine mammals and fish species. When a shark attack occurs, the person is almost never consumed by the shark and, after a shark has bitten a human once, it usually recognises them as not being food and leaves. Those victims who die from their wound usually do so from trauma and blood loss.
Whilst this doesn’t make the idea of a shark attack less frightening it confirms that sharks are not man-eaters, which is contrary to their portrayal in mainstream media. Some media outlets have portrayed sharks as monsters because fear sells and sensationalising that image boosts ratings. People have a lot more to be afraid of than sharks, which is one reason why divers and surfers feel so lucky when they get to see a shark in the water.
In Part 2 of Sharktruth, Alex Lichtblau will interview his friend, fellow diver and surfer from the Galapagos Islands, Diego. Alex chose him because he is unique amongst his friends…he is the only person he knows who has been bitten by a shark. Alex interviewed him to find out why he of all people, has chosen to give sharks a chance. Join us to hear Diego’s perspective on why sharks are so important to the health of the ocean.