I love sharks!
They are my favourite thing to see in the water. If you’re coming from Part 2: Interview with a Shark Attack Survivor, you might ask why sharks are my favourite given the damage one inflicted to my friend Diego. My answer is because sharks are not the monsters people think they are. Check out Part 1: Dive With Sharks…It’s the Safest Thing You’ll Do All Day, where you’ll see that man’s other best friend, dogs, are more likely to kill you than sharks.
I love something misrepresented, misunderstood and generally misconceived. Of all the things I’ve seen in the water, sharks are the most graceful, discerning, and beautiful. They radiate finesse, power and restraint. They are living fossils, inhabiting Earth for longer than trees, and have changed little since the dawn of their existence. They have supernatural abilities, seven senses to our five, arguably more common sense than people and undeniably serve a more positive and important role in the environment than humans currently do.
The role of sharks
Sharks act as the trash collectors and auditors of the ocean, making sure that only the healthiest sea creatures pass on their genes. A shark’s favourite meal is not a strong, healthy fish, but a weak, injured or otherwise inferior specimen; basically an easy meal. Sharks, in short, are evolution’s sharpest and most precise instrument. Many are also scavengers, feeding on the carcases of already deceased animals such as whales.
Why is this important for people?
As apex predators and keystone species, like wolves and lions, sharks ensure the entire food chain remains in balance and that the ocean is healthy. By doing so, sharks support the ocean’s ability to produce oxygen, the most of any system on Earth, and remove the majority of all carbon dioxide produced. For those of us that eat seafood or like to breathe oxygen, sharks’ survival is incredibly important.
The sad, and frankly scary, issue is that sharks are in trouble. Besides the notorious and barbaric practice of shark finning for the shark-fin soup market, they face innumerable other threats. These include, but are not limited to, being caught as by-catch in other fisheries and culling to prevent incidents between water users and sharks. It is well-known such culls are ineffective, go against public opinion and are damaging to the health of the ocean.
What can we do to protect sharks?
- Help reduce fear by watching and sharing factual, fascinating documentaries such as Rob Stewart’s Sharkwater and Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue. The greatest way to tackle the media’s misrepresentation of sharks is to educate yourself and others.
- Talk to a convert…Try speaking with someone who was afraid of sharks and then took the chance to get in the water with them. Chances are you’ll find that they are now in a torrid love affair with shark diving and conservation.
- Get your fins wet! Consider diving or swimming with sharks during your next dive trip or beach vacation. Travel specifically to do so. You will not regret it and you might even fall in love.
- If that’s not possible, check out the nearest aquarium and watch sharks for a while. They are pure grace and power, and one of the oldest living things on Earth.
- Speak out! Let your local representatives know that you don’t approve of shark finning practices and that you think they deserve our protection.
By educating ourselves and others and by experiencing sharks first hand, we can reduce fear and create positive change for sharks. After all, we protect the things we love.