When you hear the word shark, what type of images first comes to mind? Chances are, you think of something close to the image to the right.
For years, sharks have been portrayed as heartless killing machines. But this could not be further from the truth. Out of the hundreds of species of sharks only a few have been known to attack humans. Even then, only about 6 shark attacks are reported every year. And an even fewer number of these attacks result in death. In fact, you are several times more likely to die from being trampled by a cow than bitten by a shark.
There is also evidence to suggest that sharks (especially Great Whites) don’t mean to attack humans. It is believed that they do so unintentionally, mistaking humans for seals. Consider Peck Euwer’s story. He was surfing with a friend off the coast near San Francisco when a Great White shark surged from below and tried to make Euwer his next meal. Euwer was flung several feet into their air, but surprisingly was not injured. The shark got a nice bite out of his surfboard, but after realizing Euwer wasn’t a tasty seal after all, he simply swam away.
But negative stereotypes about sharks are still far too prevalent, and unfortunately the stigma associated with these beautiful and mysterious creatures fuel some unlawful and cruel practices. Ever since the movie Jaws came out, recreational shark fishing has become a major problem all around the world. In fact it is estimated that around 100 million sharks are killed annually, either from game fishing or industrial fishing.
A delicacy in some countries, the fin of a shark can go for hundreds of dollars on the black market. The most disturbing part of this is the way in which the fins are harvested: a process called shark finning. Usually the shark isn’t killed. Instead the just throw the shark back in the water, but only after they cut off it’s back fin, rendering it unable to swim. Once back in the water, the shark can only sink to the bottom of the ocean where it will die a slow and agonizing death, being eaten alive by aquatic scavengers.
There are already several species of endangered sharks, and a few are even on the brink of extinction. The ocean’s most feared predator, the Great White, only has a few thousand of its kind left in existence. If changes aren’t made soon, the ecosystem could become damaged beyond repair. So what can you do to help? The best thing you can do is educate yourself about these amazing creatures.
The more people learn about sharks, the more they will see that their supposed vicious nature is way over-hyped. You can start by watching Discovery Channel’s annual shark week. We have so much to learn about these giant fish, and once we start to actually get to know them, the stigma will eventually start to reverse itself.
Daren Kalkoffen is a Featured Blogger for Mobilize.org’s The Millennial Report. Kalkoffen was born in Santa Cruz, California, but spent most of his childhood in the Sacramento area. He hopes to one day be able to travel the world, especially to impoverished countries, and make any difference he can. Kalkoffen’s number one goal is to raise awareness about current events and increase political efficacy among young people.