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July 5, 2024

7 Misconceptions About Sharks

SAO © OCEANA Mario Gomí


  1. All sharks are ferocious hunters. 

Truth: Some of the biggest sharks in the world, like whale sharks and basking sharks, are actually filter feeders that eat mostly plankton and other tiny organisms.

  1. All sharks must swim constantly to survive. 

Truth: Some sharks do need to swim almost constantly, since water flowing over their gills is how they “breathe,” but not all! Sharks like nurse sharks can open and close their mouth to force water over their gills.

  1. Sharks are mindless predators. 

Sharks are known to exhibit complex social behavior and some species can learn information from other sharks, form social relationships, communicate with body language, and even work together to hunt their prey.

  1. We should hunt sharks to protect ourselves. 

Truth: While it’s true that sharks can bite people, such occurrences are very rare – far less than being struck by lightning, being attacked by a bear, getting into a car accident, or even being bitten by another person on a street in New York City. There’s no reason to hunt sharks because sharks aren’t targeting humans. 

  1. Sharks are “super-smellers” that can detect a single drop of blood a mile away in the ocean. 

Truth: While sharks do have great noses, studies indicate that they are no better at detecting faint smells in water than other fish. They certainly excel at sniffing out a meal, but they don’t quite live up to the reputation the media has built for them. 

  1. Sharks are apex predators, fearing nothing and nobody. 

Truth: Some species of sharks are apex predators and have very few natural predators. However, all sharks have something to fear: us. The continued survival of many shark species is jeopardized by the shark fin trade, just as rhino and elephant populations have declined due to the demand for their horns and tusks. Global oceanic shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70% over the last 50 years, with overfishing as the primary cause.

  1. Sharks threaten fishers’ livelihoods. 

Truth: Sharks actually play a very important role in keeping ocean ecosystems in balance. They keep prey populations in check and feed on old and sick fish, helping to keep the overall population healthier. So, even though fishers and sharks may sometimes target the same species, sharks have an overall positive impact for fishers. 

Sharks may be some of the ocean’s most famous residents, but many of the common “facts” about sharks are actually just media myths or urban legends. They’re not the bloodthirsty monsters many people think they are – it’s humans who endanger sharks, not the other way around. The demand for shark fins incentivizes overfishing and shark finning, the cruel and wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and throwing its body back overboard to die. Oceana campaigns to end this pervasive and fraught trade for shark fins — as well as shark meat and other products — that persists across the planet. There has been great progress, like in when the United States passed a law to ban the buying and selling of shark fins, following significant campaigning by Oceana and our allies. But there’s still more work to be done. Saving sharks requires global protections and dedicated enforcement of them as well as an end to the devastating global shark fin trade.  

Visit the Marine Life Encyclopedia to learn more about sharks.