(This article first appeared in MX a while ago.)
Sharks are terrifying. Mammoth muscles with rows of razor-sharp teeth that motor through the water at speeds many times faster than us, it’d be stupid not to scared of them. Wouldn’t it?
Actually, no. According to the facts, death by shark attack is so rare, it’s not worth worrying about. You’re more likely to win the lottery than be bitten by a shark.
Every Xmas in the US, trees and decorations cause an average of 250 injuries and 40 fatalities, while sharks in the US are responsible for around one fatality every two years. So Americans are 80 times more likely to be killed by a Xmas tree, but nobody is hunting them down. We put them in our homes. And surround them with defenseless children.
Now we all know that Americans are idiots, but worldwide there are only four fatal shark attacks every year. At Australian beaches, you’re umpteen times more likely to drown, be injured by a surfboard or laugh at a fat European in tiny bathers, than be bitten by a shark.
Every day humans kill around 300,000 sharks. Per year, that’s like totes heaps. Over 100 million, which is about one thousandth of the Greek debt, but the fact that the worldwide economy is completely stuffed is another issue entirely. We’re discussing sharks and by the stats, they should be much more scared of us.
A few more pointless stats. Around 150 people each year are killed by coconuts, 100 choke on ballpoint pens, and you’re about four times more likely to be crushed by a vending machine, than eaten by a shark. (By the way, these stats aren’t just from Wikipedia. I did actual research.)
But would Jaws be as terrifying if instead of a shark, it was a coconut or ballpoint pen? Of course not. But why are we so scared of sharks?
It’s to do with the way we’ve evolved. Or haven’t. Technology has moved much faster than our brains, and on an instinctual level we have trouble telling the difference between real life, and a movie or the nightly news. Most times we see a shark and it’s attacking someone, so on a basic level, we’re convinced it must happen all the time.
Many species of shark are endangered, including the critically endangered Great White, which are believed by experts to be rarer than tigers. Just because a shark isn’t cute as a dolphin or whale, or as cuddly as a panda, and has the dead black eyes of a murdering machine, that doesn’t mean it’s any less deserving of our compassion.
Look into shark fin soup. What we do to them is much worse than anything they’ve ever done to us. Jaws author Peter Benchley (that’s right, it was a book first) spent the later years of his life advocating shark conversation.
I’m a surfer, swimmer and scuba diver. Despite all the facts, I’m still shit scared of sharks. But they have much more right to the ocean than I do, and I know the facts. Sharks are amazing. Let’s leave them the hell alone.
For more info: www.amcs.org.au(Australian Marine Conversation Society)