For those of you who are old enough to remember, Discovery Channel launched its first week-long series of Shark Week on July 17, 1987. I don’t remember when I actually started watching the series, but I estimate that it was somewhere around the summer of 1989. I’ve always loved sharks. I suppose I was one of the fortunate kids who never really believed that man-eating great white sharks patrolled the shores of seaside beaches, searching for their next bite of human flesh, as so ignorantly portrayed in the Jaws films.
I grew up in sunny Southern California. The beaches and the Pacific Ocean were all a normal part of life for my family. I actually remember my first real-life experience with a shark when I was around 4 or 5 years old. My dads had a pretty awesome little sailboat that we would launch in San Diego’s Mission Bay, and would always head out of the bay into the big, blue Pacific Ocean. We would always jump overboard and swim in the open water. One afternoon a larger mako or blue shark swam into our area and spent a few minutes swimming around us before losing interest and venturing on. Of course we made our way back on board the sailboat with our hearts pumping a little more stronger than usual, but surprisingly we were more honored and excited than scared. Over the years I’ve had many more fortunate encounters with these majestic creatures in various dives in California, Hawaii, and Mexico.
In the past several seasons of Shark Week I’ve noticed a decline in educating viewers and a rise in feeding the typical fearsome stereotypes of these misunderstood predators. The first sharks lived around 400 million years ago, with most sharks developing during the Cretaceous period – over 64 million years ago. Today there are over 400 species of sharks, and they are found in every ocean of the world, with some species also found in rivers. One third of oceanic shark species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species which means they are seriously threatened by the possibility of extinction. Scientists even estimate that shark populations in the north-west Atlantic Ocean alone have declined by an average of 50% since the mid 1970s! Jaws was released as a film in 1975, and was based on a fictional New England seaside town named, Amity Island. You do the math…
There are many ongoing issues and circumstances which continue to threaten sharks such as overfishing, phobias, loss of habitat and food source(s), climate change, oceanic pollution, and the wealth sought in the shark fin industry. As STOP SHARK FINNING states, “Every year tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of finning. Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark’s fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks either starve to death, are eaten alive by other fish, or drown (if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). Shark fins are being “harvested” in ever greater numbers to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup, an Asian “delicacy”.
This is probably one of the most horrific and barbaric practices that is as equally criminal as the killing elephants simply to “harvest” their ivory tusks. Fortunately many animal rights and conservation groups have stepped up to the plate and have refused to let this issue go away.
And sadly there is a global pandemic of galeophobia, a fear of sharks. Are you afraid of sharks? Did you know:
- You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 11 million chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.
- Over 17,000 people die from falls each year. That’s a 1 in 218 chance over your lifetime, compared to a 1 in 11 million chance of being killed by a shark.
- In 1996: toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year. 2,600 Americans were injured by room fresheners. Buckets and pails injured almost 11,000 Americans. However, sharks only injured 13.
- For every human killed by a shark, humans kill about two million sharks. (Read that one again!)
Even with these known facts, the ongoing research to study their behavior as well as their alarming population decreases, sharks are pretty much open game. If they’re not hunted, they die in fishing nets and even shark proof nets, which many Australian beach communities have gone so far to install. They do this in a desperate attempt to protect their revenue by providing tourists with a false sense of security instead of discussing the ongoing problems and issues which humans are to blame for. In the end, countless sharks wind up being the losers.
The last thing I want to do is put a damper on anyone’s Shark Week, especially for shark geeks such as myself, and so many of my fellow friends, but we need to speak out! Pay close attention to this series and see if you notice any fear-selling, misinformation, or downright absurdities! Don’t let Discovery Communications define Shark Week, we must be Shark Week! Let us put our passion into play and help educate our friends, family members, co-workers, etc. Let’s hit the “like” and “subscribe” buttons of the many great shark conservation groups and organizations. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have the means, lets go diving! For those who have never dived, look into it learning! Our oceans are an amazing ecosystem that we’re still learning about on a daily basis. Let’s be apart of that process!