Misunderstood, hunted, and killed by the millions, sharks might just be the animal that needs our help the most.
Since 1988, Discovery has dedicated a week to all things shark- and it just so happens we have finished this year’s rendition. Though it has its role in shark conservation, it clearly isn’t its main purpose, with specials such as “Phelps vs. Shark” and “Shark-Croc showdown”. It has a reputation of being sensationalist and for good reason. It’s initial founding was on the grounds of garnering more views when Discovery realized shark specials boosted numbers. Jaws (a movie I have a big bone to pick with- but more on that later), was actually aired during the 2001 Shark Week, and made a startling $470 million. It seems their mission is not so much about educating people on the true nature of these animals, but more hyping up their “cool-factor”; which unfortunately, often means reinforcing misconceptions surrounding their aggression.
Shark conservation has never been an easy task to tackle. Sharks, by nature, are not cuddly, they aren’t fluffy, and they probably won’t take kindly to being petted or hugged. They live in an alien environment we struggle to relate to, and unlike the dolphin, don’t have an adorable smile to tether them to humanity. They have roamed the seas, mostly unchanged, for 450 million years. To put this in perspective, dinosaurs only came about 230-65 million years ago. So in many ways, I can’t say I blame people for finding sharks hard to relate to. They, quite literally, come from a different era. Yet, we have taken this unfamiliarity and twisted it into something that it’s not. We have used it as an excuse to sit back and turn a blind eye as 100 million sharks are killed every year. Not only are we allowing these apex predators to teeter at the edge of extinction, we pretend that what is happening isn’t animal cruelty of the worst kind. Imagine if panda bears were having their limbs hacked off and then slowly left to bleed to death? People would not stand for it. And yet we allow this to happen to hundreds of thousands of sharks every day. All in the name of a soup.
We call them monsters. We call them man-eating machines. We go on witch-hunts. But guess what? On average, they only kill 10 people per year. Did you know you are more likely to be killed by a dog? And yet we take dogs into our homes, we have animal shelters, we love them, and we call them man’s best friend. All the while sharks are left to fend for themselves, on some flimsy image we have of them, created by Jaws and over sensational news reports. We say they are the villains of the sea, and yet it is their blood that colours the ocean red- by our, so-called “civilised” hands. I implore you in light of Shark Week (and every other week for that matter) to remember that these animals are no less deserving of our help than any other.
Image: Florian Klauer