Written by Amos Nachoum
The 1975 Steven Spielberg movie Jaws had a universally chilling effect on the human perception of sharks and, unfortunately, firmly stamped the Hollywood version of vicious shark behavior in our memories. A more recent Hollywood effort, Soul Surfer, based on the true story of 19-year-old champion surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, left the shark out of the story, for the most part.
Sharks get a lot of bad press. But who will defend their reputation? At TEDx Conejo, I talked to an enthusiastic audience about how Jaws is a complete fabrication. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the real nature of sharks.
End the ‘killer’ shark stereotype
Still, the misinformation and hysteria around sharks remains, and biologists, scientists, and others like myself have been working to counteract the negative shark reputation ever since.
You want the truth? The National Aquarium in Baltimore says that more people die of bee stings every year than shark attacks. And remember this: Humans are not a normal or even preferred part of the shark diet.
A number of world-famous divers, including William Winram (also known as the Shark Publicist) and Fred Buyle have been working to fight the myths around sharks and eliminate the ‘killer’ reputation of these Biganimals. These divers are known for diving with sharks and taking only their cameras – no weapons.
We recently had a well-attended scouting mission diving with the Okavango River Crocodiles, another Biganimalof seven to 12 feet in length who also comes with a sinister reputation. Our direct, personal experience – and the experiences of my crew and guests – with these river crocodiles was very different than the current public perception that labels these magnificent creatures as terrors along the river.
The Great White shark’s reputation as a nasty predator is also highly undeserved. Certainly, yes, they’re big ‒ as long as 16 feet and as heavy as two thousand pounds ‒ and they’ve got loads of teeth ‒ as many as 300 ‒ and they are powerful, but the truth is most sharks are actually quite shy and prefer to stay away from humans. Plus, they are some of the most fascinating animals you will ever encounter and some of the most rare.
Humans kill over a million sharks each year – some for their meat, cartilage and skin, some for their fins. Many are killed as bycatch by industrial fishing operations. The bottom line is that sharks have a lot more to fear from humans than the other way around. It’s not hard to figure out who the hunter is in this scenario.