Shark Attack!

Shark Attack!

Bull SharkBack in 1975, the Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” movie became one of the most successful motion pictures of all time. Leveraging on the people’s ancestral fear of big predators, one of the main results of the movie has been keeping millions of people out of the water, printing in the general audience’s mind the idea that sharks are cold-blooded assassins and that killing a shark is not such a bad idea.

This general popular feeling, coupled with the increasing request of shark fins from the Chinese market and their shark fin soup, led many sharks’ populations close to the definitive extinction.

Having a close look on actual numbers of shark attacks and related injuries, the reality of facts is very different than perceived.

According to the last International Shark Attack File (ISAF) report, in 2012 there were about 80 unprovoked shark attacks on humans. “Unprovoked” are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat without human provocation of the animal. So spearfishers, shark riders and these kind of interactions don’t are included in “unprovoked”.

Most of these episodes have occurred in North American waters (42), followed by Australia (14) South Africa (4) and Reunion (3). A single incident was reported from Canary Islands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Tonga and Indonesia. Amongst these attacks, only 7 resulted in a fatality (3 in South Africa, 2 in Australia, 1 in California and 1 in Reunion), following the trend of about 7% of fatalities since the data started to be recorded (approximately first decade on 1900, more than 100 years).  Apparently, many of the shark’s bites are made by mistake, both as a “tasting” from young individuals, or from adult sharks that misidentifying a surfer laying on his board on the surface as a seal or sea lion, one of the favorite shark’s meals.

Surfers and other boat-sports participants were the most impacted in 2012, with 48 incidents. Swimmers and divers were also involved but in a very low ratio. The so-called “Big Three” – Great White, Tiger and Bull Sharks – were responsible of about the 90% of the total fatalities.

Even if these numbers would appear worrying at a first sight, let’s investigate a little bit more in details. I would not explain about how dangerous is driving a car in every country or, even worst, to drive a motorcycle in Bali or Jakarta, as everyone knows about.

Ginglymostoma cirratumLet’s remain in the natural world for these examples. In the USA only, in the last 50 years, about 2000 people died for a lightning strike, compared to the only 26 shark attack fatalities. In the southern US, in the same period, 18 people died by an alligator attack, and only 9 by a shark bite. In Florida, 125 people died as results of tornadoes, compared with 6 shark attack fatalities.

If you still think that sharks are terrible killers, you might be interested to know that in the last 10 years, in the USA 263 people died by a dog attack, and sharks killed only 10. And that in the only New York City, approximately 8.000 people are bitten from another human (!) and some of them even die.

Having a look on all these data, it’s clear that the diffused “shark dread” it’s more a society and media induced fear than an actual risk. Some very low-level movie like “Sharknado” (a tornado of sharks hitting Los Angeles), “Sand Sharks” (shark swimming below the sand eating people on the beach) or even “Shark Avalanche” (sharks attacking skiers swimming below the snow) have been produced hoping to arouse these ancestral fears (with a low success, I have to admit: check on YouTube the trailers of these movies).

Disease and Accidental Causes of Deaths

Death Risk During One’s Lifetime

Heart disease

1 in 5

Cancer

1 in 7

Stroke

1 in 24

Hospital Infections

1 in 38

Flu

1 in 63

Car accidents

1 in 84

Suicide

1 in 119

Accidental poisoning

1 in 193

MRSA (resistant bacteria)

1 in 197

Falls

1 in 218

Drowning

1 in 1,134

Bike accident

1 in 4,919

Air/space accident

1 in 5,051

Excessive cold

1 in 6,045

Sun/heat exposure

1 in 13,729

Lightning

1 in 79,746

Train crash

1 in 156,169

Fireworks

1 in 340,733

Shark attack

1 in 3,748,067

Annual Risk Of Death During One’s Lifetime.  Source: International Shark Attack File

On the other side, millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins and meat. Several international scientists have already pointed out that such removal of “apex predators” from the oceans may cause irreversible damage on these fragile ecosystems, already threatened by many other factors including chemical and plastic pollution, waste disposal, climate change and overfishing, just to name a few. In Bali itself and generally in Indonesia, to find a shark during a dive or from a boat has become a very uncommon experience. Indonesia is one of the main sharks and rays fisheries in the world, especially in waters surrounding Lombok and Bali. Some attempts of creating a social awareness about the shark’s disappearance are already working very well. Apparently, the demand of shark fins has decreased in recent months, and some organizations in Singapore and Hong Kong are proposing strong campaigns against the shark fin soup tradition.

Bull SharkSomething is moving in Indonesia as well. Some of more important diving destinations (Like Komodo and Raja Ampat) are declaring their waters “Shark Sanctuaries”, where fishing these animals is strictly forbidden. Of course poachers are always moving around, but at least their life is becoming more difficult than before.

Even other organizations like Bali Sharks (www.balisharks.com) and the Gili Shark Foundation are raising awareness amongst tourist and locals about the importance of keeping Indonesian sharks alive.  Let’s stop the Jaws fear and guarantee a brighter future for our oceans.

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