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By: Sarah Sharkey
Shark. The word excites a fear in many people around the world.
These apex predators have always been portrayed as man-hunting animals that hunt down human flesh as a regular part of their daily diet.
This could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of shark encounters are simply a case of mistaken identity in the murky waters close to shore.
You are 132 times more likely to drown at the beach than you are to be bitten by a shark. But, shark attacks make dramatic news and it can be hard to resist the tantalizingly gory story of a shark attack.
Through generations of false portrayal, sharks have become an animal that represents fear for most of the population. Many people are scared to go in the water for fear of a shark attack. But in reality, sharks have more to fear from us.
Photo Credit: Brian Skerry / National Geographic
Sharks around the world are being fished at a faster rate than they can recover from easily. Some reports have shown that up to 273 million sharks are being killed per year around the world. That is a MASSIVE amount of sharks that we are taking from the ocean.
As an apex predator, sharks are extremely important to the health of the entire ecosystem that they reside in. When sharks are eliminated from an ecosystem, the populations that they usually kept in check through predation typically explode in a way that negatively affects the habitat.
For example, tiger sharks regulate the population of sea turtles, which prevents overgrazing in sea grass beds. Without the sharks the beds would be overgrazed, which is bad for other wildlife in the ocean.
Not only are they vital parts of the ecosystems of the seas, but also good indicators of overall ecosystem health. This is because sharks evolved so tightly within their habitats that they are a crucial component of the check and balance system that keeps one species from overrunning the entire system.
Photo Credit: Jeff Rotman / jefsrotman.com
Finally, sharks are far more valuable to communities alive than dead because there is a huge demand for shark related tourism. One prime example of this is that each reef shark in Palau draws in roughly $179,000 in tourism revenue per year whereas a single shark’s fin in shark fin soup only costs about $100.
We need to start changing the tides of the public opinion about sharks because it hard to save an animal that the general public fears.
Help the shark’s street rep and spread the word that sharks are so bad after all. And of course remember that, “Sharks are friends, not food.”