Thanks to movies like Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, Bait and many more most of us grow up scared of sharks. Now, I assume at some point I was also scared. I’m sure that watching people get eaten by prehistoric flesh eating monsters worried me. But then I got over it.
I’m not sure what it was exactly that did it but I imagine some of it has to do with scuba diving. I have had wonderful experiences with sharks. I’ve sat right beside a Port Jackson on a night dive watching him devour a sea urchin. I’ve seen Wobbegongs, Grey Nurse sharks and even one Blacktip Reef shark. Each experience I had with a shark blew my mind. The way they glide through the water effortlessly. They are just one big muscle, strong, quick and precise. They have evolved perfectly to their environment, the apex predator. Well, at least until we happened.
Humans kill sharks at a devastating rate. We are responsible for a mass genocide. Human beings kill 100,000,000 sharks every single year. This is a staggering number. Now, the important thing to remember when it comes to sharks is that we are not attempting to control their populations. We are not breeding sharks like we breed cows or chickens. We are not ensuring the longevity of their species. According to scientists, we are doing it at a rate so fast that the shark populations have no time to recover. Sharks are slow growing and slow to reproduce. This means that if we continue at the same rate, most species of shark could be extinct within a generation.
The worst part is that most of the sharks killed die by drowning. You may wonder, how can a shark drown? Well, they drown because fishermen who catch sharks catch them for their fins. Shark fins are considered a delicacy throughout many Asian countries. The fins are added to soups, but because they have next to no flavor, it is primarily used as a status symbol. The sharks are hauled up onto the decks of boats, their fins cut off and then pushed overboard. From there, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and slowly drown. The apex predator, an animal that hasn’t had to evolve for millions of years because of its sheer perfection in its environment is dying, finless at the bottom of the sea.
Now, some of you may be thinking, why should I care? Sharks are scary and they might eat me when I go for a swim. Well to put that claim in perspective, are you afraid of elephants? Thanks to Dumbo and Babar you probably love them. However, according to statistics, elephants are responsible for about 500 human deaths a year. On the other hand, sharks are responsible for about 7, on average. Sure a shark may maim you or take a chunk out of your leg, but chances are you will survive.
So, you still don’t care? Well, how about we approach it from another angle. Do you enjoy breathing? I sure do! Do you know what is responsible for most of the oxygen on planet Earth? Despite what you’ve heard, the rainforests are not really the lungs of the planet. The majority of our oxygen, 70-80%, comes from marine plants, predominantly algae. That is a staggering fact that not many of us appreciate. Now, what eats algae and marine plants? I would have to say fish. And to march further along this circle of life, what eats fish? Well, I would have to say sharks for the most part (and people!). Okay, cool. So what happens when there are no more sharks because we’ve put all of their fins in soup? There will be a lot more fish, right? And if there are a lot more fish, what are they going to eat? A lot more marine plant life and algae, right? And if our source that provides 70-80% of the oxygen that all living animals need to survive is severely depleted, what happens to us? You can probably guess.
Although we continue to remove ourselves more and more from what we eat, we are still connected to every living thing on this planet. We need each other to survive. An important truth of science is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only change form. This means that for billions of years, the energy of the planet has been recycled and reused. We don’t own our energy, we are simply borrowing it until a time when we pass on and it takes another shape. So when we irresponsibly destroy an entire species, which lived on this planet long before we came along, we really are killing ourselves. So the next time you hear someone tell you how scary sharks are, maybe you should set them straight and tell them how much scarier a world without them would be.