That man-eating shark from Jaws may be fictional, but that doesn’t stop people from believing that sharks are out to get us — even though it’s not true at all.
Chris Neff, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, gave this talk at TEDxSydney about his research on the politics of shark attacks. In it, he identifies the three main misconceptions when it comes to shark-human interactions:
1. Sharks do not “attack”.
2. Rogue sharks don’t exist.
3. People don’t always react negatively to sharks following a shark bite.
Stories of sharks biting humans are uncommon, but get a lot of media attention when they do happen and are often sensationalized. A recent increase in shark accidents in Sydney, Australia prompted calls for a massive culling of the shark population.
But the thing is, sharks aren’t attacking humans maliciously. As Neff says, “trying to govern ungovernable events distracts us from real shark bite prevention.” Instead of killing even more of these important predators, we should be restricting areas where humans can swim and dive and changing our own behavior to prevent future accidents.
Because when it comes to sharks, “we’re in the way, not on the menu.”
Editor's note: Happy Shark Week! All week long we'll be re-capping some highlights from Shark Week programming. Today we review last night's "Killer Sharks."
Last night’s Shark Week episode, “Killer Sharks,” tells the tale of Black December, the label South Africans gave to the period from December 1957 through April 1958 because of the rash of shark attacks that occurred near Durban.
Unlike the other episodes that have aired so far, this one takes place completely in the past, and so the entire episode consists of dramatic re-enactment with a few authentic clips interspersed where possible.
Seven deadly shark attacks happened in the area, and all the while Dr. Harris, a marine biologist, worked hard to get to the bottom of them. He discovered that it was not merely one rogue shark causing all the problems, but that there were hundreds of them in the area. But what was bringing them so close to the tourist beaches?
It just so happened that December 1957 marked the beginning of the perfect storm for shark attacks: whaling vessels offshore were attracting sharks to the area; rivers were flooding and washing livestock out to sea, introducing new food sources and making the water murky; and there were more tourists than ever in the water due to recent resort development.
In other words, this event was extremely unusual, and highly unlikely to occur again (in fact, it remains one of the worst in history, over 50 years later). The average number of fatal shark attacks per year worldwide is four, which is lower than the number that occurred in South Africa over the four month period in this episode.
What’s more, as Dr. Harris said in this episode, shark research was in its infancy in the 1950s, and we have come a long way since then in our understanding of these creatures and what environmental factors may trigger such behavioral changes.
Washington Post environment and politics reporter Juliet Eilperin has a new book out today that explores the science and mythology behind the ocean’s top predators.
In “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” Eilperin travels the globe -- she swims with whale sharks in Belize and great white sharks in South Africa -- to investigate how individuals and cultures relate to sharks and how the misperceptions surrounding them threaten their continued existence on the planet.
The book also includes a few nods to Oceana’s shark campaign work, including our work to combat the use of squalane in beauty products, and actress January Jones’ visit to Capitol Hill to advocate for sharks.
But enough about us, be sure to check out NPR’s great interview with Eilperin, and catch her on tour in the coming months. You can see her full tour schedule as well as excerpts, reviews and other information about the book at www.demonfishbook.com.
Here’s a book trailer for “Demon Fish” to whet your appetite:
Lewis Pugh is a British environmentalist, maritime lawyer and Oceana ally. He was the first person to complete a long distance swim in every ocean, and is probably best known for two impressive feats: his 2007 swim across the North Pole to highlight the melting of Arctic sea ice, and a swim across a glacial lake in the Himalayas 2010 to draw attention to the region’s melting glaciers.
Last week Pugh spoke in Cape Town, South Africa against Shell’s proposed fracking in the country. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting natural gas by pumping chemicals, sand, and water underground to break apart rock and release gas. (For more on the controversial practice of hydrofracking see Grist and the New York Times.)
While Oceana doesn’t have a campaign directly dealing with the practice of hydrofracking, we are certainly aligned with Pugh on his bottom line: it’s time to transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Here’s a clip of Pugh’s powerful speech:
Here in the U.S., we need your help to stop dirty energy, too. Please speak up by March 30 (tomorrow!) to prevent new offshore drilling for the next five years.