The truth behind these powerful animals.
With Shark Week on the Discovery Channel once again upon us, those who tune in will see many shows and documentaries on these amazing animals, most of which depict them in an unfair light as man-eaters, ravenous predators, and something to be feared.
Now admittedly I am a huge fan of Shark Week but unlike many I have a decent knowledge of sharks and so I know they are not as dangerous as they seem in the media. Now this is not to say they are not to be respected and that you should attempt to pet one; I mean they are carnivorous wild animals after all.
As a long time SCUBA diver and spearfisherman I have had my share of run-ins with sharks; but never have I been attacked. Now though we don’t yet know why sharks attack there are a few theories on the subject. But the prevailing theory is that an attack is a case of mistaking a person for food, such as when they attack surfers because they look like seals or similar marine mammals. But, the shark must be accustomed to looking for these shapes and associating it with food; so if in an area where seals are not found it either mistook you for something else or was simply checking out the situation.
But whatever the reason for the attack sharks really have no interest in eating a human being so most attacks end once the shark realizes the person isn’t their typical food; unfortunately for the victim the damage is already done. Luckily though, attacks are rarely fatal. On average there are around 50 to 70 attacks with only 5 to 15 of those being fatal.
Also, consider that of the 375+ species of sharks only a dozen are considered dangerous. Of these dangerous dozen are three sharks which are responsible for most of the attacks on humans; those species being the Great White, Tiger, and Bull. In addition, many times attacks are not unprovoked; roughly half are actually because the shark was followed to close, teased, or made to feel threatened. Again, these are wild animals.
The reality is that you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut or struck by lightening than to be attacked by a shark. Your chances to be attacked are less than 1 in 3 million; you have a 1 in 38 chance of dying from a hospital infection, so the odds are with you.
From my many shark encounters the only time I have been threatened is when I had a stringer of dead fish on me when spearfishing; and even then I was of no interest to them. But an interesting note on shark behavior is their fear of hostility. The shark is an apex predator so they are not used to anything acting with aggression towards it; so when this happens they tend to leave.
In the spearfishing world something you have to be ready to do when you have fish is actually confront the shark by swimming at it! Yea, I said it AT THE SHARK!!! As crazy as this sounds it works and has saved me a few of my friends. They see the aggression and they usually flee. Now the obvious suggestion is just dropping the fish and swimming slowly to the boat; but you may not be left with an option. But as with a dog you should never run/swim quickly away because now you are acting like prey and will be treated as such; and that will ruin a dive quick! Typically just a slow retreat while keeping an eye on the animal will lead you safely out of the water.
And just for fun here are a few facts about sharks.
For more info go here!
Here’s another awesome video