The movie “Jaws” may have been a box office hit but its biggest impact was the widespread vilification of sharks. A tragic outcome that still impacts sharks today. In just 30 years sharks have decline by 90% and are on the verge of extinction. A problem that the author of “Jaws”, Peter Benchley, has spent the last 20 years striving to change. Even though Benchley did not create the monstrous film image of sharks, his book turned movie spread fear and portrayed these creatures as a threat to anyone who swims in the ocean. The unfortunate truth is that while an average of 6 humans are killed by sharks each year, 100,000,000 sharks are killed by humans.
Last summer I had the opportunity to dive with bull sharks. It was an unforgettable experience and part of my training to become a shark conservationist. By diving underneath the sharks (they hunt what is above), I observed them for hours without fear of being attacked. I was close enough to look directly into their eyes, where I saw the same curiosity and perceptiveness that I have in myself. The connection was perceptible, and I will never forget it.
People fear sharks more than they desire to understand them, and this fear fuels the belief that sharks are better off dead. Although there are many factors that play into this false belief most of them can be overcome with education. Sharks are an ecological important apex predator that maintain the ocean’s balance. Their extinction will impact many other species, a cascading effect that will eventually affect us. Particularly local fishing. If not for the shark, then for us, it is time to put our fears aside.
In the United States, the likelihood of getting attacked by a shark is 1 in 264 million. Worldwide, there have only been 102 unprovoked shark attacks since 1839. With statistics like these, the journey to the beach is by far more dangerous than swimming with a shark. But if that were to occur and if the shark approached, there are some things you can do. If the shark gets aggressive, get aggressive back. A shark’s nose is extremely sensitive. Last month a surfer near Moonlight Beach in Encinitas deterred a curious shark by kicking it in the nose. Eyes are sensitive as well. Remember that you are not a shark’s natural prey. If one approaches it is probably simply curious but so, do not panic and try to outswim it. The splashing will turn you from an object of curiosity to food. Be smart about when you swim. They hunt at dusk and dawn, near schools of fish and away from shore.
Thankfully, public opinion is shifting. In a recent poll, 82 percent of Australians agreed that sharks should be preserved and that that it is the swimmer’s responsibility to avoid them. Responsibility is the key word. We are responsible for the massive decline in sharks and should also be responsible for ensuring their recover. We love our beaches in San Diego, let us also love our sharks.