Despite what Hollywood movies would have you believe, sharks do not present a huge danger to humans. Sharks are not aggressive, mindless predators hunting the waters to feast on humans. There are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding shark attacks that people are so terrified of sharks that the entire species is under threat of extinction. These myths need to be debunked because without sharks, our ocean ecosystems will be in trouble. Here are the most common myths about shark attacks debunked:
1. Shark Attacks Are Common: Shark attacks against humans are not common at all. Though the numbers are hard to track, scientists have found that over the last fifty years there is a documented average of less than 50 unprovoked shark attacks per year globally. Furthermore, on average less than one person dies per year from a shark attack. There are plenty of things that are more likely to kill you than sharks including lightning, pens, and furniture.
2. Sharks Are Mindless Killing Machines: Sharks are not at all mindless killing machines. Sharks are in fact highly intelligent and have complex social behaviors, reasoning capabilities, and problem-solving strategies. Sharks, including Great White Sharks, Mako Sharks, and Lemon Sharks, also hunt very deliberately and many exhibit adaptive hunting strategies dependent on the type of prey. Shark hunting strategies range from stalking, ambushing, and baiting and luring prey. There is nothing mindless about how sharks hunt.
3. All Sharks Attack Humans: There are 440 known species of sharks in our oceans, with more being discovered every year. Among these species is a vast biological diversity including a range of diets. Sharks like the Whale Shark, Basking Shark, and the Megamouth Shark are filter feeders and don’t attack large prey, no less humans. There are also hundreds of species of small sharks like Lanternsharks, Catsharks, and Pygmy Sharks that are too small to attack humans. Not to mention the several species that live in the deep ocean that never even interact with humans.
4. Shark Attacks Are All Unprovoked: On average only half of all reported shark attacks are unprovoked and even in these cases, unprovoked shark attacks will happen when humans are exhibiting risky behaviors like swimming during feeding times or swimming too close to sharks. Most cases of shark attacks are provoked by humans and usually happen when a person is attacking a shark either directly or during fishing.
5. Sharks Seek Out Human Meat: Even the most aggressive predatory sharks like Great White Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Tiger Sharks do not like the taste of humans. In fact, most sharks do not like land mammals at all. Sharks rely on fats to provide energy and humans do not have fatty bodies. So often when a shark attacks a human for food, it is because they are curious to see if we are a food source. In most cases, they will take a bite, realize we are not what they are looking for and swim away in search of the prey that meets their biological needs.
6. Sharks Will Leap Out Of The Water To Attack Humans: Some species of sharks like Great White Sharks, Mako Sharks, and Bull Sharks can jump out of the water, a behavior known as breaching. They use breaching to vertically attack prey, often in the case of seabirds. Not all sharks have breaching capabilities and it is not a common behavior since it expels a lot of much needed energy. Sharks will not jump out of the water onto boats or the seashore to attack humans. There has never been a recorded incident of breaching behavior to target a person.
7. Sharks Will Attack Humans In A Feeding Frenzy: There are very few species of sharks that engage in group hunting, also known as a “feeding frenzy.” Feeding frenzies are not mindless hunting, they are instead a coordinated group attack much like how wolves or dogs hunt. In history there have only be a few documented cases of sharks attacking humans in a feeding frenzy and those cases typically are with Ocean Whitetip Sharks which are an open-ocean species that humans have very little contact with in general. Though it makes for a great scene in a movie, it’s not likely you will ever be swarmed by a pack of sharks that will attack you all at once.
8. Surfing Is Dangerous Because Sharks Will Attack: There is some truth to the idea that sharks can mistake humans on surfboards for seals. However, the odds of being attacked by a shark while surfing is 1 in 9 million. In fact, most surfers will never even encounter a shark. Plus, there are plenty of small things you can do as a surfer to keep safe from a potential shark attack. Simply by avoiding areas where sharks will feed and avoiding surfing during hunting times, will pretty much reduce your chances of being attacked by a shark to zero.
9. Humans Are Defenseless Against Shark Attacks: Though sharks are built for ocean hunting, humans are not defenseless against shark attacks. First of all, humans can avoid risky situations where sharks could attack by avoiding feeding times, breeding areas, and provoking sharks. Secondly, in the case a shark does attack, humans can go on the offense and stand their ground. Attacking the eyes and the nose of a shark will typically scare the shark off.
10. Sharks Are More Dangerous Than Humans: There are on average only 70 total shark attacks globally every year. However, comparing that to the fact that humans kill over 170 million sharks every year, it’s abundantly clear that sharks are not more dangerous than humans. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Humans are a massive threat to shark species and are in the process of driving the species to extinction, while shark attacks are usually provoked or just a case of curiosity.
There are a lot of misconceptions about shark attacks and those misconceptions breed a lot of fear. The reality is most people will never be attacked by a shark, even those who frequent the beach. Ultimately, there’s really nothing to worry about when it comes to shark attacks, so you’re safe.