In the summer of 1975, Steven Spielberg’s film, Jaws, exploded in the box office with nearly half a billion dollars in ticket sales. In predictable fashion, the entertainment industry has persistently recycled the shark attack “blueprint” in hopes of recapturing the film’s original success. Jaws, itself, has inspired three lackluster sequels, two musicals, three video games and two amusement park rides.
In recent years, shark attack related films have only become more egregious, as the American public has been exposed to the likes of Sharknado and Avalanche Sharks. Ever since the initial success of Jaws, Hollywood has permeated a sense of hysteria surrounding shark attacks for the sake of financial gains. In doing so, the entertainment industry has also induced a universal fear of sharks in the world as if beachgoers were in immediate danger as soon as they dipped their toes in the ocean.
In reality, shark attacks claimed only 4 human lives per year on average worldwide between 2006-2010. Comparatively, jellyfish stings account for up to 40 human deaths every year in the Philippines alone. Of course, we would all rather encounter a jellyfish than a great white shark in open water, but the likelihood of being attacked and killed by a shark is still shockingly low. While humans portray sharks as man-eating villains in the media, the truth is that we are far more dangerous to sharks than sharks are to humans.
To appease beachgoers and tourists who have seen movies like Jaws or Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, countries like South Africa and Australia have placed shark nets in the ocean to protect their popular beach destinations from dangerous sharks. However, not only is there reason to believe shark nets are ineffective in preventing attacks, but the nets also trap and kill harmless sharks and innocent creatures alike. In Queensland, Australia, for example, 11,899 great white, tiger, and bull sharks were killed in shark nets and drum lines, in addition to 53,098 other sea animals between the years of 1975 and 2001. In comparison to the thousands of innocent sharks, turtles, and whales that are killed to keep Queensland beaches “safe,” sharks have claimed 170 human lives in Australia over the past 100 years.
Moreover, while mass media outlets sensationalize every single shark attack, humans kill between 26 and 75 million sharks per year to harvest their fins. In an effort to satisfy the demand for shark fins in Asia, especially China (Hong Kong), where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy, sharks are being caught, “finned,” and often thrown back into the ocean to bleed to death or drown.
As the demand for shark fins continues to persist (imports grow 6% per annum in Hong Kong), sharks are going extinct right before our eyes. In fact, mostly due to humans’ fishing activity, 141 species of sharks are currently either threatened or near threatened with extinction.
Because of the misguided perception of sharks in mainstream society, some might even welcome their departure from the ocean. However, as apex predators, sharks are widely considered “keystone” species that are essential to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. Their sheer presence at the top of the food chain affects the populations of every living organism in the ocean. Sharks have existed on earth for over 400 million years, and their disappearance could bring about unwanted and unpredictable changes to our planet. Ultimately, in regards to humans’ relationship to sharks, one must ask the questions; who is the villain? And who is the victim? Even the most irrationally fearful beachgoer must stop to reconsider the impact of humans’ collective ignorance and brutality towards these creatures because very soon it will impact our own existence.
Help save the ocean’s most misunderstood creature, and put an end to shark finning. Join the Save our Seas Foundation to spread the word, make donations, and receive updates on the the latest news from the field. Also, make the pledge to be Finished with Fins and join Shark Savers, which is now a program of WildAid.