Shark Week: Changing Fear to Respect
It’s finally Shark Week! This week social media and TV will be saturated with images and videos that portray sharks in a very specific way; as a fearsome creature of the sea. Although shark week has changed its approach in recent years to make their content more educational and less fear-mongering, the overall message of dramatized fear is still there, etched into the content with the suspenseful music and the choice of footage. With this sort of media portrayal and movies such as Jaws and 47 Metres Down, it’s no wonder that most people harbour a deep fear of sharks.
That brings us to the question of whether or not sharks are dangerous. The overall answer is that they can be. They are apex predators whose physiological and psychological characteristics have been fine-tuned over 400 million years in order to make them efficient and effective predators. They are highly sensitive to their environment and can often detect prey over very large distances. Everything from their sleek bodies, to their electro-sensory organs, to their sharp teeth indicate that they are an important and well-evolved predator. As a result, some shark species have been known to have negative interactions with humans and as a result, people have become cautious or even frightened of them. These sharks have most commonly been larger species that hunt larger prey and often hunt fast moving marine mammals such as sea lions. It is important to realize however, that not all species of sharks are the same, and not all pose a potential threat to humans.
Each shark species has its own distinct set of characteristics and defining features. Some species are quite small, while others are very large. Some of the largest shark species don’t even have teeth, such as the whale shark and the mega-mouth shark, who only feed on plankton. Many species of sharks are harmless to humans and don’t require much more caution than the average large fish. Other species, on the other hand, are not so harmless and require a great deal of knowledge and experience to interact with. Regardless, no shark species are ruthless man-slaughterers as the famous Jaws movies have portrayed them. More importantly, no species of shark has humans on its natural menu. We are simply not part of their food chain. Shark attacks are most often a case of mistaken identity.
Should we fear sharks then?
There is a very big difference between having fear for a creature, and having respect for a creature. Fear can spark hatred as well as irrational thought and action. Respect for an animal’s capabilities and an understanding of its attributes encourages caution and a greater awareness of the animal we are in proximity with. Sharks are not puppies and should not be referred to as thus, nor are they merciless, man-eating predators. They are simply wild animals, living in their natural habitat, and operating as the important ecosystem maintaining, apex predators that they are. It is important to establish this in order to develop a more respectful and well-informed relationship between sharks and humans.
On that note, WHO’S READY TO CELEBRATE SHARKS FOR A WEEK?!