By Peyton Gadbury | Opinion Editor
May 30, 2019
With 300 teeth that can rip apart almost anything and sand paper skin covered in scars, sharks lurk beneath the surface, drifting from coastline to coastline as nothing more than silhouettes. The face of monsters, conductors of fear.
And yet, the most dangerous animal in the world isn’t a shark. It’s a human.
Known as the ultimate apex predator, sharks have existed for more than 450 million years. They’ve survived all five mass extinctions. Some can live to be 500 years old.
They are, perhaps, the most resilient beings on earth, and they’re dying.
Due to anthropocentric pressures, like over-fishing and pollution, sharks were quietly added to the endangered list in the early 2000s; however this fact often goes unnoticed because of sharks’ threatening disposition. It’s easy to hate something so terrifying, and people aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to save Jaws—especially when killing them is such a lucrative business.
In reality, only approximately five people die from shark attacks per year, and it’s never the sharks fault. When surfers or boogie boarders are waiting for the perfect wave, their floating bodies resemble seals and other common prey. Most of the time, sharks take a bite, realize they aren’t chomping into delicious seal, and let go. Shark attacks rarely end in fatality, and if they do, it’s due to blood loss, not because the person’s been eaten. Still, blockbuster movies like Jaws, 47 Meters Down, and The Shallows have propagated the idea that sharks are bloodthirsty killers, waiting to target the next human that floats innocently above them.
Despite the lack of aggression on sharks’ end, humans kill roughly 100 million sharks a year, primarily for their fins, which are popular in eastern countries and used in the infamous “shark-fin soup,”—an essentially flavorless broth that has more to do with status than actual taste. In some countries, shark cartilage and fins are thought to be powerful medicines against ailments like cancer, creating a high demand despite no evidence suggesting a link between shark and cure. Fins alone sell for around $500 a pound, whereas the rest of the body is often discarded after removal. Sharks are caught, their fins are cut, and then their writhing bodies are tossed into the ocean, where they ultimately sink and suffocate. Because sharks don’t reach reproductive age until they’re around 30 years old, these mass killings have led to a sharp decline in population, resulting in the endangerment of these magnificent beings.
Even more so, the psychology behind hating sharks has led to a lack of action on the side of conservation. Why would people save the very thing they’ve been taught to fear? Though more than 50% of sharks species have been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, sharks have yet to receive the media coverage needed to save them. They continue to suffer under the assault of the real apex predator, humans. As of today, some shark species have declined by up to 70%.
Sharks are the kings of the ocean. These gentle giants regulate the food chain and act as indicator species for ocean health. Without them, all ecosystems would collapse, human society included—if sharks go, so do the rest of us.
For more information on shark conservation efforts, check here.