This post was written by Ocean Conservancy’s Digital Communications Intern, Maggie Tehan. Maggie is a recent graduate from Clemson University where she majored in Communication Studies and minored in Writing. When she’s not working at Ocean Conservancy, you can find Maggie expressing her biting wit on social media (pun intended), cheering on her favorite football teams, and wishing she had a permanent ocean view.
What emotion comes to your mind when you think about sharks? For many people around the world, that emotion is fear. But why is there so much fear surrounding the topic of sharks?
Unfortunately, sharks have a well-known negative image, instilled in us by movies and news stories that continue to terrify people. The media has introduced a sense of fear in us and because of this distorted framing; sharks have been branded as villains or “man-eaters,” and have been feared and hunted for centuries. But is the media really classifying the right group as villains?
Humans fear the unknown and assumed threats, but sharks fear the legitimate perils that they face everyday. I know what you are thinking, what should sharks be afraid of? Well, it’s us. Humans threaten sharks livelihood day in and day out. Sharks are some of the most biologically vulnerable creatures in the ocean because they grow slowly, mature late and produce few young.
In the 400 million years that sharks have roamed the ocean, they have been hunted for their meat, fins, teeth and more. Every day, 250,000 sharks are pulled out of the ocean and killed for their fins, meat and liver oil or as bycatch when they are accidentally caught in fishing nets or on hook and line. Humans slaughter more than 100 million sharks every year. Recently, overfishing has caused severe declines in shark populations. The spiny dogfish shark, previously one of the most ample shark species in the works is now depleted off the U.S. East Coast.
Additionally, sharks face the threat of finning, the practice of cutting off the shark’s fin and tossing the carcass back into the water where they face a certain death. Shark fins are highly prized ingredients to a so-called delicacy, shark fin soup. While shark finning has been banned in all U.S. waters, it still occurs legally in many parts of the world.
The negative media spotlight continues to hinder shark conservation efforts. Sharks are apex predators, which means they play a vital role atop the ocean food web, balancing many trophic systems. Because of this, shark conservation is crucial. The absence of sharks would threaten to affect the balance of delicate marine ecosystems that we have come to know and love.
Every year, dogs, bees, snakes, and pigs kill more people than sharks do. And in a single year in the United States, 43,000 people were injured by toilets while only 13 were wounded by sharks. That’s right—your toilet is 3,000 times more likely to hurt you than a shark. Don’t let your misguided fear hinder shark conservation efforts and instead be educated on the legitimate risks associated with sharks.
Thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. government is now protecting scalloped hammerheads under the Endangered Species Act. Scalloped hammerheads are the first shark species to ever receive such federal protections. You can do your part too, let NOAA know that you appreciate and support what they have done to protect scalloped hammerheads.
Let’s all be informed, aid conservation efforts and avoid being another shark’s nightmare.