It’s a peaceful day on a crowded beach in Florida. Out in the water, about a hundred yards from the coast, a dorsal fin appears. Since it’s so far out, it’s hard to tell what it is. Could it be a dolphin? No, this dorsal fin is straight, not curved, and the tail fin is vertical, not horizontal. This is a shark. Families erupt in panic, fleeing the water. The beach is evacuated as news vans swarm the area, broadcasting tales of a bloodthirsty monster in the waters. Stories like these give sharks a bad reputation, and they are endangered because of human activities. This essay will show that sharks are not to be feared for their appearance or the reputation given to them by the media and pop culture. They should not be hunted because of irrational fear and the value of their fins. Instead, these beautiful creatures should be protected because they play a vital part in their ecosystems.
Why do people fear sharks? Their appearance doesn’t help the fear. In the article “Shark Attack! A cultural approach,” author Adrian Peace explains that the appearance of sharks is part of the reason why people fear them. In his article, Peace explains “It is extremely difficult for people to empathize with great whites. They are impossible to love, even hard to like, and this is because of the way their physical features are interpreted” (Peace 4). He goes on to talk about divers and fishermen who have close encounters with sharks talk about their “black and beady eyes” (Peace, 4). Sharks are described as “expressionless”
One of the other reasons why sharks are feared comes from their portrayal in pop culture and the media. The movie Jaws is a well-known classic. Ask anyone on the street, they have probably seen it at least once. This popular movie focuses on a monstrous shark that terrorizes a local beach community, snatching people out of the water and breaking boats apart. This movie has had negative effects on society’s view of sharks. This isn’t the only one. There are countless movies centered around murderous sharks. Media and pop culture have painted the image that sharks are bloodthirsty monsters that stalk beaches and hunt humans. Movies use special effects and background music to strike fear and unease into viewers. These false representations cause irrational fear and hatred. Instead of learning more about sharks, people would rather believe movies created for entertainment.
Often, movies about sharks are filled with inaccurate information. In addition to the false information, the use of special effects and the music played in the background has an effect on the audience’s view of sharks. An article done by Andrew Nosal, Elizabeth Keenan, Philip Hastings, and Ayelet Gneezy highlights their research that studies the effect of background music used in shark documentaries and movies. Their article, “The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers’ Perception of Shark,” explained the process used in their three experiments. Participants were shown a video of sharks swimming in the water. The video had ominous music playing over it. After the video, the participants were asked to rate sharks in a negative or positive way. Then, the exact same video was played, only this time it either had positive music or no music at all. Following the same procedure as before, participants were asked to rate the sharks in a negative or positive way.
The research showed that participants had a more negative view of sharks when the video clip was played with ominous music. When the same clip was played with soothing music, the participants had a more positive view of sharks. This research shows that background music being played has an effect on the viewer. Soothing music elicits a positive reaction, so ominous music would cause a negative reaction. This technique is popular in horror movies. Usually, when something bad is about to happen the music gets lower and speeds up. When the shark is coming in the movie Jaws, the now-famous music prepares the viewer for the impending attack. The anticipation of what is about to happen gets the viewer’s heart racing, their hands get sweaty, they get scared.
Aside from the fear caused by movies and pop culture, part of the fear of sharks stems from lack of information. There are many common misconceptions surrounding sharks, and the media doesn’t help. In reality, sharks don’t hunt people. They don’t stalk beaches looking for little kids to eat. They are curious. When the news reports a shark attack, there is usually only one bite. The shark bites the object to see if it is food. When the shark realizes that this is not food, they move along. There are about 400 species of sharks that can be found all over the globe.
According to the Shark Research Institute, under scientific classification all sharks belong to the class chondrichthyes because all are cartilaginous, which means that their skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone. From there are eight different orders of sharks, all with their each unique characteristics. The largest order is the carcharhiniformes, which are “ground sharks.” This order includes black tip reef sharks, lemon sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks, and many more. The largest shark is the Megalodon, which are now extinct, but grew to be about 50 feet long. The Great White belongs to the lamniformes, which have multiple rows of teeth, two dorsal fins, and five gill slits. The Great White is probably the most famous shark. This is the shark that is most common in movies. This is the shark that people fear. This fear is misguided and has led to the killing of sharks.
Some species of sharks are becoming endangered, and humans are the reason why. Human activity poses the greatest threat to sharks. In her article, “Sharks in Danger,” Rachel Cunningham-Day states, “Many shark populations are in danger of extinction as a direct result of man’s activities.” The truth is, sharks wouldn’t be in danger if it weren’t for human activity. Even ocean pollution is traced back to humans. The fishing industry kills about 3,000 sharks per day in drift gill nets, according to the Marine Conservation Society (Cunningham-Day 118). That number doesn’t include sharks caught by fisherman that aren’t released back into the water.
Many people don’t know that sharks don’t just live in saltwater, some species live in freshwater. In “Recreational Fishing Impacts on Threatened River Sharks: A Potential Conservation Issue,” authors Peter M. Kyne and Pierre Feutry talk about threats to threatened sharks that live in the rivers of the Adelaide River in Australia. River sharks such as the Speartooth Shark, Northern River Shark, and Bull Sharks are being threatened by overfishing. The Northern River Shark is endangered, while the Speartooth Shark is critically endangered. The Bull shark is not currently endangered, but is still threatened by overfishing. Catching one of these sharks in the Adelaide River is not hard to do because these sharks come to the river to give birth (Kyne 210). Fishermen catch these sharks, and instead of releasing them unharmed, they kill and dispose of them.
The biggest danger to sharks is shark finning. Shark finning steals the fins from sharks. The shark is taken from the water, the fins are cut off, and the shark is thrown back into the water, still alive. The shark fins are used in shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in Asia. In her article “An International Sos (Save Our Sharks): How the International Legal Framework Should Be Used to Save Our Sharks,” Crystal Green explains, “The growing population of the Chinese upper class has gone hand-in hand with the increased consumption of shark fin soup. The increased demand has led to the overfishing of many species of sharks, causing devastating population decline” SOURCE. This population decline can have a catastrophic effect on our ocean’s ecosystems.
“Shark Tales” by Gwendolyn Schanker provides more information on the dangers of population decline. The author introduces readers to a young man, Camrin Braun, who is a graduate student in Oceanography. He spends his time on a boat somewhere in the ocean, tagging sharks. Tagging shows a shark’s location and gives researchers information about the conditions of the water, such as the temperature. Braun’s Ph.D. advisor, Simon Thorrold, explains why this information is important, saying “We don’t know where sharks move or why, where they mate, or where they have pups” (Schanker 32). He goes on to say “Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to know where to implement marine protected areas to conserve them or how to devise sustainable fisheries management strategies for sharks” (Schanker 33) Without sharks, the whole ocean ecosystem will be unbalanced.
Sharks control the ocean’s food chain, and without sharks, prey species will overpopulate. Sharks are apex predators, meaning that they are at the top of the food chain. They’ll eat anything from invertebrates to orca whales, sometimes even other sharks. The entire marine ecosystem relies on sharks to stay intact. If sharks started going extinct, the prey they consume would thrive, leading to overpopulation. This overpopulation will destroy the ecosystem.
Removing sharks from oceans will have devastating effects on their marine ecosystems. Not only do sharks affect the other sea life they prey on, they even have an effect on the vegetation in the ecosystem. If the herbivores that sharks prey on are left without a predator, they will reproduce freely and overpopulate the area. They will eat all of the vegetation in the area, and the ecosystem will be unable to recover. Oceana, a worldwide organization founded to conduct scientific research for conservation, has a section on their website about the importance of sharks to the ocean’s ecosystems. On their webpage, “The Importance of Sharks,” they explain that “Sharks indirectly maintain the seagrass and coral reef habitats. The loss of sharks has led to the decline in coral reefs, seagrass beds and the loss of commercial fisheries” (“The Importance of Sharks”). This shows how the survival of sharks affects the economy.
The same commercial fisheries that threaten sharks are indirectly dependent on their survival. In “The Importance of Sharks,” Oceana describes a situation that took place in North Carolina. They explained that the loss of sharks increased the stingray populations in the area. The overpopulated rays had to eat, and they consumed all of the bay scallops in the surrounding waters. They go on to explain the effects of this loss, saying “As a result, the hungry rays ate all the bay scallops, forcing the fishery to close. Without scallops to eat, the rays have moved on to other bivalves” (“The Importance of Sharks”).
Tourist destinations that depend on marine life are also in danger. Not only does the loss of sharks affect commercial fisheries, it also affects tourist attractions. Go to any popular beach town and look at all of the boat tours. There are glass-bottom boat tours, sunset tours, even tours focused on specific marine life, like stingrays and dolphins. In the case from North Carolina that was described in the previous paragraph, the stingrays ate all the bay scallops. When all the scallops were gone, the stingrays left. How many boat tours had to close because there were no rays to observe? On the webpage “The Importance of Sharks,” Oceana describes the affect that sharks have on ecotourism. Cage diving as well as scuba diving are dependent on sharks. According to Oceana, “In the Bahamas, a single live reef sharks is worth $250,000 as a result of dive tourism versus as one time value of $50 when caught by a fisherman. One whale shark in Belize can bring in $2 million over its lifetime” (“The Importance of Sharks”). This shows that sharks are more valuable alive than they are dead. Even in shark fin soup, one fin only brings about $100, and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the water.
Hope is not lost. Countries all over the world are putting measures in place to protect these beautiful creatures. According to Crystal Green in her article “An International Sos (Save Our Sharks): How the International Legal Framework Should Be Used to Save Our Sharks,” “The United States and European Union have both tackled the issue of shark finning head on in recent years, by limiting or prohibiting shark finning within that 200-mile zone.” Protection policies are not 100% effective because there are people who don’t care about what laws they break, but these policies do protect sharks from being killed.
Australia is working to protect their river sharks. In “Recreational Fishing Impacts on Threatened River Sharks: A Potential Conservation Issue,” these protection measures are explained. “Information is readily available to the public on Northern Territory recreational fishing regulations through signage and online and print materials, but it is clear that at least some anglers are unaware of, or unwilling to accept, the protected status of river sharks.” The article goes on to explain that education is the key component to the management of conservation. The proposition of new measures such as the protection of all sharks in the river and the addition of lure-only zones (no bait allowed).
In addition to the many protective measures being taken by countries around the world, there are many organizations that advocate for the protection of sharks. Organizations such as Oceana advocate for all marine life, and the World Wildlife Fund advocates for all animals. The Shark Research Institute is dedicated to the protection of sharks. The Discovery Channel raises awareness during Shark Week, which is a week-long marathon of shark documentaries and shows. Personally, this is like a national holiday for me. The documentaries are very informational, and most are kid-friendly. More kid-friendly information can be found on websites such as the Shark Research Institute, which has plenty of resources that can be used to help kids learn more about sharks. National Geographic also has articles and resources that are fun for adults and children. Education is the best way to promote conservation.
The best way to promote the conservation of sharks is through education. Many people just think that sharks are man-eating monsters. If those people would take the time to learn about these beautiful creatures, they would see that sharks are not only vital to marine ecosystems, but they are also vital to the economy. Human activities have put these beautiful creatures in danger of extinction. Without sharks, entire marine ecosystems are in danger. Prey will overpopulate and take over, eating all vegetation until the ecosystem can’t keep up. Does society’s fear and hatred of sharks warrant their extinction?