Probably the most commonly misunderstood, and -treated animals on our planet are sharks. Mention the word “shark” and the first thing that comes to most people’s head is fear and disgust. They are constantly portrayed as notorious killers that will attack and eat any living thing that comes near them, but are they the blood-thirsty killers as they are believed to be?
In reality, shark attacks are extremely rare. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File, sharks kill around 6 people per year worldwide.
You are at greater risk of dying from almost anything else than from being attacked by a shark (for example 20 people die from an encounter with cows every year).
This kind of stigmatization is very convenient to many fishermen, though. With many people being afraid of sharks and not caring about their existence, the gruesome practice of cutting off a live shark’s fins and throwing the rest of the animal back into the sea, where it dies a slow and painful death, takes place in many parts of the world. The fins are used in China and Hong Kong, and by Chinese communities elsewhere in the world, as the key ingredient in shark-fin soup. In recent decades, the demand for shark-fin soup has increased rapidly. Humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks each year. All things considered, we are hurting sharks a lot more than they are hurting us.
For example, oceanic whitetip sharks were once thought to have been among the most numerous open ocean sharks on the planet. Whitetips have disappeared because of commercial fishing and the shark fin trade - sadly with very little scientific attention and even less public concern. Sharks cannot sustain high levels of fishing. They grow slowly, have relatively few young ones, and take a long time to mature.
Shark populations have little to no chance of repairing the damage to their populations if we continue to kill them at the rate we are going.
In addition, sharks preserve healthier fish populations (many of which are necessary as seafood for humans) by feeding on the old and sick prey.
Even though sharks are an important part of the marine ecosystem, they are slaughtered ruthlessly. And yet, not many are concerned about this issue. The purpose of this article was to bring more awareness to the most common misconceptions about sharks.
Maybe by learning the truth, more people will move to protect these fish.
Margarita is an Estonian volunteer in Praxis Organisation, involved in the World Wildlife Day.