We love sharks. Sharks are amazing. And despite the irrational fear that people have of sharks (damn you, Jaws!), sharks would honestly rather do their own thing and are actually afraid of people. I've been on many dives where a shark comes gliding along, minding its own business, then sees me and goes "nope, nope" and jets off in the other direction.
But even if sharks weren't wary of us and even if they weren't misunderstood, who are we to cull them? Who are we to go on a massacre when there's a shark attack somewhere? Aren't we in their territory? Aren't we imposing on them? As scuba divers, snorkelers, surfers and spearfishermen, we make the active choice to enter their territory and therefore (should) accept the consequences of what happens to us.
So without further ado, here are 5 really good reasons why we should protect sharks.
Reason 1. Sharks help maintain the reef
Sharks are an incredibly important part of the ecosystem. They keep the reef eating fish populations in check, which prevent the reef eating fish from overeating the reef. If the sharks go, then the fish populations will run rampant and the reef will get eaten away pretty quickly. The reef actually produces a huge amount of the oxygen in the air that we breathe, so without the reef, on-land populations will die as well. Grim.
Reason 2. Sharks are worth more alive than dead
Studies have shown that the worth of a shark is far more when its alive than when it's dead. While the numbers vary for each location, on average, you get roughly $100 for a dead shark (they normally just take the fins), while a living shark will bring in over 1.5 million dollars over the average lifetime. Sharks are not only good for the reef, they're good for tourism. They're good for local communities. This theory doesn't just apply to sharks, it also applies to pretty much every other animal, both on land and under the sea, like elephants, rhinos, gorillas, whales, turtles, lions...the list goes on.
Reason 3. Shark finning is incredibly cruel
Imagine you're walking down the street, minding your own business, when someone drags you onto a dinghy, cuts your limbs off and leaves you face down in shallow water, shallow enough that you can sort of lift your head out of the water so you don't drown immediately, but still enough water that you will eventually bleed out and drown at the same time. That is the closest thing I can relate to a shark's experience when it gets finned.
With the exception of nurse sharks, all sharks need to be constantly moving forward so that they can push water through their gills and breathe. When sharks are finned, their bodies are pulled up onto the boat, their fins are hacked off and then their bodies are thrown back into the water to leave more space on the boat. The sharks then slowly drown. All of this cruelty for a substance that has no flavor and no nutritional value. Shark fin is cruel and useless.
Reason 4. They're more afraid of you than you are of them
There were 12 fatal shark attacks in 2015. Do you want to know how many sharks we killed that year? Over 100 million. One hundred million sharks. 100,000,000. Versus 12 humans. Are you getting it? And every time there is a shark attack somewhere, we go on a rampage and kill every shark in the area. Why?
Sharks are misunderstood. They genuinely want nothing to do with us. The reason that shark attacks are increasing is because humans have taken a large part of their food supply because of our unsustainable fishing techniques and consumption, and so sharks are now moving closer to land to find food. We are the reason that they are moving closer to shore, and then we get upset when we see them close to shore. Does that make any sense at all?
Reason 5. Sharks are just amazing
Sharks are exquisite animals. They are the best. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution to create the perfect marine predator, moving effortless through the water. Honestly, watching sharks cruise through the current is an incredibly life affirming event. Sharks are extraordinary, and deserve to be seen as such.
So there you have it, 5 really good reasons why we should protect sharks. I apologize for getting a little heated on this one, but shark conservation is one of the topics I'm most passionate about when it comes to the marine conservation realm. Save our sharks!