Of all the fears people have, getting caught in a shark attack usually is right at the top of the list. Movies such as JAWS, Deep Blue Sea, Open Water and others seem to reinforce what has become a cultural stereotype: Sharks are mindless, killing machines out to munch on all the innocent tourists they possibly can.
Problem is, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In fact, while sharks do have incredible abilities as hunter-killers, there is almost no reason to actively fear them. About 500 people a year die from Elephants. A surprising 50,000 people a year are killed due to snakebites. Over 42,000 people are killed in car crashes every 12 months. An astonishing 400,000 people every year die from smoking. Last year seven people died in shark attacks. That’s 57,142 times less than people who die from intentionally inhaling smoke. In fact, those seven fatalities for 2012 are the highest since 2000. In 2011, there wasn’t a single U.S. shark attack fatality. In other words, it probably isn’t going to happen to you.
For the most part, when shark attacks do happen, it is a stretch to even classify them as “attacks.” Overwhelmingly it is a case of mistaken identity. While sharks do have some remarkable capabilities, eyesight isn’t one of their strong points. A human being swimming on the surface tends to appear like a seal. Should that person be on a surfboard, the similarity in appearance goes up dramatically.
When shark attacks do occur, very, very rarely do the sharks actually consume the victim. The vast majority of attacks end up with the shark spitting out the victim after dragging them underwater. However, due to either drowning or massive blood loss, it is possible to succumb to such injuries before making it to land.
Remember that despite their ferocity during attacks, sharks are not particularly brave animals. They are, for the most part, ambush style predators. The absolute last thing a shark wants is to tangle with a prey that is going to hit back. Sharks are also looking for a meal with large quantities of fat. This explains why seals are a typical menu item, with young seals averaging over 50% fat. Humans have way less fat and do not go down easily. Thus, contrary to popular belief, a human is not a choice food for any particular species of shark.
Another misconception is that Great White sharks are the most dangerous of all ocean predators. While that may be true for seals, it certainly isn’t for the rest of us. It is undeniably true that Great White attacks are higher than most other sharks. However, this is largely due to the fact that Great White attacks are the most documented, while others are either unreported or simply mislabeled as Great Whites. Considering the size of meal Great Whites are looking for, humans don’t provide nearly enough sustainment for all the effort of an actual attack.
So, sharks don’t want you to be the yummy in their tummy. What can you do to avoid being attacked, even if it is by accident? First off, try to avoid swimming into deep water in areas where shark attacks have occurred. For most beaches where attacks occur on an unusually high basis, signs are usually posted warning of dangerous sea life. In some cases, nets are even put out at sea to keep beach-goers in and sharks out. Staying inside the parameters of such nets is also a good way to avoid what could be a bad situation.
The sad reality is that sharks simply are not a risk to humans. It’s the other way around. As a species, we kill over 100 million sharks a year. In other words, for every one fatal shark attack, we destroy over 14 million sharks. They may appear frightening, but they are an invaluable part of the ocean ecosystem and have no more interest in harming you than you do in harming them. So instead of focusing on how horrifying sharks are, let’s concentrate on what we can do to help save them from extinction. Believe it or not, these apex predators are in serious danger from us.