Is it the hunters or the ones being hunted? Few people realize that more than 100 million sharks are killed by humanity each year. This is largely due to the shark fin market. Millions more die as bycatch in nets destined for other species. These sharks are often thrown overboard as garbage.
In comparison, fewer than 10 fatal shark attacks on humans are generally recorded in an average year.
Surprised? Do not be. Sharks are widely misrepresented and misunderstood. Keep reading. We have 10 facts about sharks that we are willing to bet you did not know. Let’s separate some of the fiction from the facts …
1. She is older than you think …
More than 400 million years of evolution have perfected shark species to be perfectly adapted to the various aquatic environments in which they are found. Compare that to human history. The inhabitants of the caves from which we descended only rose on two legs about 6 million years ago.
2. The mighty Megalodon
Compared to the now-extinct Megalodon, the Great White is a kitten. The largest shark that ever lived, it could grow up to 30 meters long. An adult male could easily have stood inside the open mouth of an adult Megalodon.
3. Jaw spits, she does not swallow
Sadly, the majestic Great White Shark is still regarded by many as a mindless, murderous machine. Not so long ago there was a time when humanity also feared predators at the top of the food chain that walked the earth. Tigers, lions and polar bears were euthanized without thinking about the effect this would have on the ecosystems of which they were (and are) an important part. Slowly, they are protecting themselves, rather than executing.
When a large white takes a bite out of a swimmer, surfer, or their board, it is often a case of mistaken identity. Seen from below, a surfer on a board can look a lot like a big, fat, tasty seal. Great whites are so evolved that when they bite their prey, they have an idea of how much body fat the creature is carrying.
When they take a bite out of a human being, they often don’t bother to “get the job done.” We are quite bony, not fat and juicy like seals. Then they spit on us. Unfortunately we are left with a rather nasty wound, often miles from shore …
4. Can’t you see me …
Even when sharks can’t see you … they can still feel you. As sharks evolved, they developed a “sixth sense.” Lorenzi’s ampoules can look like an exotic Italian dish. Is not. They are the receptors that sharks use to detect electromagnetic signals that go unnoticed by humans and other species.
Sharks are said to be able to “feel” how fast their heart beats when they pass by. Hammerhead sharks have been observed hunting rays buried under the sand, using their ability to detect where their next potential meal is hiding. Once they have identified the location, they (literally) drive the lightning bolt under the sand with the double-headed hammer that is its head. Incapacitated, the unfortunate lightning bolt turns into lunch.
As they say, you can run, but you can’t hide … at least not from a hungry hammerhead shark!
5. Sharks don’t get cancer
Ok, not 100% true, but almost. Scientists have forced sharks to ingest known carcinogens and injected them with deadly toxins. However, there are still fewer than 10 verified reports of sharks developing malignant tumors. Humanity has much to gain by studying these fascinating fish, rather than sacrificing them.
6. Bad tooth? Grow some more!
If you have a cat, you know how much hair they can lose. A similar phenomenon can be observed in many species of sharks. It is not surprising that they lose their teeth during feeding or with age. What is unusual is that they have the ability to grow larger.
7. Is that a shark in the lake?
Bull sharks are a species of shark that have developed the ability to regulate the amount of water in their bodies, regardless of how much or little salt is in their aquatic environment. That means they can enter rivers and even swim upstream to lakes in search of food. Lake Nicaragua and the Zambezi River in Africa are two places where sharks are reported to navigate comfortably.
8. You suck. And you are loud.
A shark’s sense of smell is beyond anything we humans can imagine. Some species can sense blood in water at a concentration of one part in 10 billion. That means that a person with even an open scratch would be detected by any shark within a very wide radius, very quickly. Sharks can be found in almost every ocean environment on earth. People too. Swim, fish or dive. However, there are relatively few attacks on people.
Indiscriminate and unconscious killers? I do not think so.
While a diver using a breather unit is relatively quiet, conventional diving equipment is loud and noisy for those who live in the underwater world. This is part of the reason why sharks can be so difficult to spot and photograph. To them, we sound like a roaring truck, with our bubbles and our noisy breathing.
9. We will eat anything
It depends. Tiger sharks have earned an especially infamous reputation as “opportunistic” feeders. Tires, baby whales, shoes and sailors. Whatever it is, it was most likely found in the belly of a tiger.
That said, the gentle giants of the sea and the largest fish on earth are whale sharks. They have no teeth. As filter feeders, they extract plankton from the sea while swimming. They are beautiful creatures that will tolerate divers and (sometimes) several swimming alongside them. Sadly, they are now in danger in many places where they once swam in healthy numbers.
10. Be afraid, be very afraid. No wait. Do not be …
Large sharks, like any wild animal that is a top predator and a carnivore, should be given a healthy degree of respect. Especially when we divers get dressed, jump into the sea and essentially drop (uninvited) into their homes. If a group of tigers fell through my roof without warning and proceeded to follow me around my house, it would also make me a little nervous.
Essentially, this is what we do when we enter the ocean. Sharks, like other creatures on earth, do not seek a fight. They will obviously defend themselves if they are cornered or feel threatened. Show sharks the respect they deserve, and they will most likely return the favor.
** ADDITIONAL FACT **
In 2014, 33,000 Americans were injured in some way due to the use of toilets. Sharks were responsible for a whopping 13 injuries. Just putting it there …