We all know about sharks -- but do we? The cruel killers that haunt our imaginations hardly look like the amazing, intelligent creatures that are so important to our oceans' ecosystems. Sharks have been feared by man for centuries. Today, the public hears stories on the news about shark attacks, and this has been fuel for the negative views people have about sharks. Have you ever been at the beach and heard someone yell "shark!"? Even if they are teasing, this one word is enough to send grown men scampering out of the water with white faces. It is for this reason and many others that we have brought sharks almost to the brink of extinction.
Sharks are many things other than killing machines. They are beautiful and graceful creatures, with an intelligence equal to small mammals. Even more important, sharks are a keystone species for the ocean, which means that without them, their whole ecosystem is out of balance. Sharks are crucial for the balance of the ocean.
Our attitudes toward sharks have always been colored by the fact that people are killed by them. But sharks have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them. The International Shark Attack File says that each year, there are an average of six deaths from shark attacks. Compare that to a statistic from the United Nations Fishery and Agriculture Organization that shows that 700,000 tons of sharks are caught each year for foods, medicines and to be placed in captivity. In addition, overfishing, accidental netting, human fear and ignorance have almost driven many shark species to extinction. For every human killed by a shark, two million sharks are killed by humans. In other words, twelve million sharks are killed by humans each and every year. Who has more to fear?
Here in land-locked Kentucky, this may seem to be an issue that doesn't affect us. But the truth is, what affects the ocean affects us all. If sharks become extinct, the imbalance will affect everything on the planet. What can you do to help? Learn everything that you can about this issue, and support wildlife organizations who are working to protect sharks. And the next time you visit an aquarium, appreciate the sharks for what they are: wonders of evolution, having been on Earth for more than 400 million years. It is up to us now to decide this amazing creature's fate.