As you may have noticed from last year (and wow, it's hard to believe that it's already been nearly a year)... I like Sharks. And Discovery Shark Week is one of my very favorite weeks out of the year. It's certainly the most important TV event of my year. Shark Week has officially been running for 34 years now, and I've been watching for at least 20 of them. Even with the Olympics gearing up (with I will address in another post shortly), Shark Week still takes the absolute cake for me.
Meanwhile, Sharks are pretty well universally feared and culled by their millions, murdered out of raw fear and cruelly butchered for psychotic levels of capitalist profit. (between the horrors of ineffectual 'protection' measures like drum lines and the vile brutality of shark fin soup, we kill WELL over 100 million sharks per year (Smithsonian).
Conversely, you are actually NOT very likely to even encounter a shark within a 100 sqft area of ocean, let alone be injured by one.
500% more people DIED from bicycle accidents in Florida, alone, last year, than went to the hospital for shark encounters world wide between 1990 and 2009.
More dramatically, the current sort of 'shark prevention' measures that most beaches use, like 'Drum Lines' kill everything that wanders into them including people. More people and 'nice' animals like whales, dolphins, and sea turtles were killed in Queensland, Australia, alone by drum lines last year than humans on the whole planet encountered a shark. Annually there are ~63 billion pounds of by-catch, much of it from passive 'shark prevention' measure (Oceana).
Dying on a drum line is an awful death.
Animals are stressed and struggling as they drown or starve over the course of several hours, sometimes even serval days to weeks. And if a diver finds a trapped animal, they cannot rescue them without potentially facing a fine upwards of $200k.
Researchers documenting such atrocities may even be fined simply for publicizing the horrors, with film crews being placed under gag orders with $26k penalties.
Also, this by-catch is basically a dinner bell for sharks. They're indications for an easy meal of newly-dead animal, drawing sharks closer to the beach than they would've come otherwise. Beaches with drum lines generally have MORE negative-outcome shark encounters than beaches without.
It's just all around awful.
There ARE legitimate shark deterrent tools. Including ones that are safe and genuinely effective that are way less expensive (and astronomically less dangerous to humans and by-catch animal), but politicians will keep supporting shark culling plan because their constituents are misinformed and pre-emptive vengeance driven...
Two of my very favorite scholars working to change that are Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, over at the University of Miami and Save Our Seas, and Dr. Craig O'Connell at the O'Seas Conservation Foundation in Montauk, NY.
The average size of all sharks in the ocean is about 20 feet long. But that's including that massive Whale and Basking sharks measuring regularly at well over 40 & 30 ft, respectively (comparable to the average American school bus, which is about 35 ft long and 40k lbs), and little Lantern sharks coming in at just over 6 inches (about 2 HotWheels diecast models, set end to end).
A better statistic is the size of mid-size, in-shore species. The ones that actually encounter humans with any sort of aggression or feeding-curiosity are typically Bulls, Tigers, Hammerheads, and Reef Sharks (Nurses, Lemons, and a few others DO encounter people, but humans don't notice 99% of those encounters and they almost never even result in so much as a sandpaper scrape
The sharks that interact with humans average 10~12 feet in length, & weigh around 1,000 pounds. The average car is about 12ft, with cars weighing about 2,000 pounds. (Smithsonian Institute)
Shark skin is used as sandpaper:
the dermal denticals (Latin, "skin teeth") are made of a durable and sharp material that can cut through stone (as seen in Egyptian records of obelisk refinement alongside sandstone) and has been used as industrial strength sandpaper in woodworking since the age of vikings and China's golden age of piracy. (Ocean Conservancy .Org)
Shark Teeth are scalpel-sharp:
They were so effective as blades when embedded in weapons that ancient Hawaiians and Australian aboriginal peoples skipped straight over the developmental delays of the Bronze and Steel ages, resisting 18th & 19th Century imperialism partly because their stick weapons tipped with shark teeth could cut through most plate mail armor. They only lost out on dominating their homelands due to guns and disease. (Hawaii Alive .Org)
Sharks don't have feet.
That might seem obvious, but it's significant because a Shark's primary sensory organ is their nose and mouth (you know the nose covered in industrial sandpaper and filled with teeth that pierce plate mail armor). If they see or smell something weird, they don't have a limb to poke it with. They have to bite it. (Smithsonian Institute).
Sharks don't have brakes.
Again, obvious, but also, think about it: this is a fish the size of a small car coming at you out of a vague curiosity at 10~20mph, with no brakes. So once it commits to investigating you at speed, it seriously commits and then can't stop if it realizes you're not what it was expecting. And if you move or thrash, you make the shark excited because suddenly the Weird Thing in the water might be alive, and then it assumes that if you're alive you might be yummy, and if you're yummy you'll run away, so it should grab you before you flee.
A small car, covered in industrial sandpaper, with pointy tippy bits that slice through steel, is coming at you at 10mph, with terrible eyesight, no brakes, and no pokey sensory appendages to nudge you with in any less-lethal way than a full on super-chomp. Human skin can be pierced with 3 pounds of blunt pressure. An infant human has the strength to kill a full grown man if the man offers no resistance.
Honestly with how dangerous Sharks are just by existing, and how unbelievably fragile we pitiful humans are... Sharks are very clearly taking pains not to hurt us when they come up slow to investigate what the devil we even are.
And the victims of negative-outcome Shark encounters are their primary advocates. Most people who are bitten by a shark not only survive without blaming the shark for their injury, but they step up to actively protect sharks. An alarming number of people who should theoretically be the ones calling for shark culls have become shark ambassadors, researching them or aiding researchers. Hell, a sloid half of Discovery Shark Week's camera people are former 'shark attack victims' who want people to stop culling animals 'on their behalf'.
Sharks do NOT want to eat us.
They just DON'T. As demonstrated by the wonderful (and mildly insane) Paul de Gelder in the Laws of Jaws from 2019. Sharks don't react to human blood as a predation trigger. They just don't. de Gelder cuts open a pint of human blood in a could around him while swimming with Reefies and Oceanics, and they don't even display a 'surprise' response. The blood may as well not be there... But a teaspoon of fish oil in the water? That draws in Oceanic White Tips from over a mile away within about 5 minutes.
I just weep at how misunderstood Sharks are and Shark Week is one of the best ways in which the global culture is working to correct the mistakes of politicians and fear-mongers. And 2021 will be an EPIC year for it.
Robert Irwin (yep, son of my personal hero Steve Irwin) kicks with week off tonight at 8pm! And the rest of the week will continue to showcase the awesomeness of sharks!
I've acquired Discovery+ for the express purpose of watching Shark Week.
I will be eating nothing but cereal and cheep frozen pizza this month to support that decision but I've got no problem with that. And I'll be maintaining that habit for as long as Discovery leaves the Shark Week content up, so that there's a direct link in the in/out flux of payment attached to the presence of Shark Week content.
It's not much, but that IS still something extra I can do to signal shark-support to the might of Capitalism.
I may write up a few more Shark-themed posts this week, but I will definitely be pushing myself to get more Fanfic chapters out to literally bribe what audience I have to address into thinking differently about sharks. I sincerely hope that all of you take these animals to be the beautiful, critical creatures that they truly are.