As I'm sure many of you nature lovers already know, two weeks ago marked the 15th consecutive year of Shark Week. Unfortunately, I was wandering around South America during this year's airing and was unable to devote an entire seven days to the television set. I figured since I missed the show, I could do a little shout-out to sharks in my blog instead!
For the record, I have always been terrified of sharks. I know this sounds nuts but when I was little I thought the black lane dividers on the bottoms of swimming pools would somehow turn into sharks and eat me. To this day I assume they lurk in all dark water and avoid the ocean during dusk and dawn (their feeding times). My older brother was bitten by a shark while surfing in Melbourne, Fla. That's the honest truth, folks — he has a scar of seven stiches to prove it. It wasn't a limb-ripping, Jaws-sized great white, but a shark nonetheless. When I think of sharks, I think of sharp teeth. I think of blood in the water, and Bethany Hamilton, the little surfer girl whose arm was bitten off in Hawaii.
Recently, I have been trying to reverse my shark-hater mentality. I realize that half the reason I fear them so much is because of media hype. Though I am an admitted fan of Shark Week, Discovery Channel gives these creatures a bad reputation. Instead of focusing on educating the public about these incredible animals during shark week, the Discovery Channel resorts to the sensationalism of shark attacks. In reality, sharks are the ones in danger, not humans. Between 20 and 100 million sharks are killed each year by human activities such as fishing and finning. Compare that to the less than 20 humans killed each year by shark activities. Finning is a cruel act in which sharks are robbed of their fins and then left to die a slow death so that some people can enjoy a pricey soup.
Shark populations are plummeting around the world, and the decline has ecologists worried about the trickle-down effect that will occur on the ocean ecosystem. Sharks are the apex predators of the ocean, and as these top predators disappear, there is a domino effect on the rest of the food chain. Populations of lower-level predators, such as rays, skates and smaller sharks are free to go unchecked. This leads them to overeat and wipe out their own prey. Sharks have been around for over 400 million years. Now they are becoming extinct because of human ignorance and they need our help, not our fear!
Now that we all know that sharks deserve our respect, I will take a moment to highlight some "fun," not scary facts about them.
Sharks don't sleep. Instead, they alternate between periods of rest and activity. Sharks don't care for their newborns because baby sharks are born with basic survival instincts. The largest shark is the whale shark. Although it can grow up to 60 feet long, it is a gentle giant that only consumes plankton. Sharks can replace their teeth in as little as 24 hours.
You know what they can't replace? Their fins! Protect the sharks! Stop finning.
Photos: Scott Sansenbach/Flickr and egarc2/Flickr