Contrary to expectations, the purpose ofShark Awareness Day is not to stand on the beach and shout out warnings to terrified swimmers and surfers, despite the hours of innocent fun that can provide.
It’s true that sharks are impressive hunters and predators, yet the sad fact remains that these magnificent creatures are more threatened by people than we are by sharks. The worldwide demand for shark-fin soup, shark-tooth medallions, and a false sense of security on beaches everywhere, all combine to leave sharks persecuted and endangered, with millions of them being killed each year.
Like top predators in any ecosystem, sharks play an essential role in keeping the seas healthy and productive. Whilst no-one is suggesting we go out and hug a Great White on Shark Awareness Day, it’s the least we can do to respect these wonderful creatures and let them be.
Know your sharks? Try this riddle: Lurking through all the world’s open seas, I am a fear to many and prompt rapid flee, but though I am large and colossal in size, I am intelligent, curious and probably wise, I learn from experience and adapt as I grow, and in spite of my size I am not at all slow, there is no need to fear me as I can be gentle too, it just takes getting to know me in the big ocean blue. Who am I?
If you have been keeping up with national news, it feels like this is the year of the shark. Numerous shark incidents have swept the Eastern US coast, more great whites have been spotted off the California coast, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think worldwide that shark population are on the rise and searching for human flesh.
But in reality, the story is much more complex, and in fact, largely the opposite. While global human populations have risen exponentially, the number of shark incidents has remained the same. Sharks are incredible, adept predators of the ocean realm, but they are not our enemies. In truth, sharks have more reason to fear us. Humans kill nearly 100 million sharks every year – an average of 11,000 sharks per hour.
Sharks are so much more than the flesh-hungry monsters Hollywood have made them out to be. They are critical to keeping ocean systems healthy – removing the weak and sick of the sea and keeping populations fit, resilient, and strong. Without sharks, entire ecosystems can collapse, changing the structure of ocean food webs and threatening our food supply, future security, and the resilience of the entire system to adapt to human changes.
Want to know more? Check out the Q&A with Jean-Michel Cousteau on sharks:
When was the first time you saw a shark?
When I was a kid in the Mediterranean Sea, I don’t know what species but it was, but it was small and gray, a little wee-wee shark. The moment I saw him, he swam away. I thought he just another fish, I didn’t even realize he was a shark until someone told me later.
Have you ever been afraid in the water with a shark?
No. I’ve never been afraid. But I’m careful, I will not get in the water with certain species of sharks that have been known to be aggressive and have made mistakes when it comes to people. If the water is not clear, if there is blood in the water, people spearfishing or fishing, I do not go in. I’m still here, after 70 years of diving, I still have ten fingers and all my toes.
What are the most important things people should know about sharks?
Sharks are one of the most critical species to keeping the ocean healthy. And people have to understand two things: there are adult sharks that are a few inches long, and the biggest fish on the planet, the whale sharks, can be up to 50 feet. Hollywood has yet to find a way to spend $70 million on a shark that is going to gum you to death (whale sharks have tiny, tiny teeth that are of little use, they filter feed plankton from the water using their gills).
What work you doing to protect sharks worldwide?
Education to show the public the importance of the role sharks play in the oceans and the fact that there are many different species in different parts of the world. We need to learn more about them, amongst over 450 species, there are only 5-7 species that have caused accidents, while others are no threat to humans. We cannot put all sharks in one category of bad, villainous fishes, but instead, learn to realize that when we go into the ocean, we submerge into their territory, so we must respect them and the important roles they play.
What more to we have to learn about sharks?
I’d love to know how many species there are, every year; we find more species that we never knew before. I’d like to know where they are, so I can go and observe them, try to understand what is their role, how do they live? I always want to know more. How can you protect what you don’t understand?
Have questions about sharks? Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Ocean Futures Society Team are happy to answer to your questions! Can you answer ours?
The answer to today’s riddle: Lurking through all the world’s open seas, I am a fear to many and prompt rapid flee, but though I am large and colossal in size, I am intelligent, curious and probably wise, I learn from experience and adapt as I grow, and in spite of my size I am not at all slow, there is no need to fear me as I can be gentle too, it just takes getting to know me in the big ocean blue. Who am I?
Jean-Michel Cousteau with a Great White Shark. Photo © Ocean Futures SocietyIf you guessed Great White Shark, you’re right!
Great white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, have been given a bad reputation, but in reality, these animals are intelligent, sophisticated, and not the man-eating hunters that the media has so often depicted them to be. They are the largest of the predatory sharks, but in calm conditions and clear water, they show curiosity for those around them and non-aggressive behavior. Due to the wide spread of misinformation, large sharks including Great White have been culled indiscriminately in recent years and such practice is unnecessary and furthers harms already endangered shark populations worldwide. Spread the word, share the knowledge about sharks vital role in our ocean health as we celebrate #SharkAwarenessDay this year!
Know your sharks? Want more shark riddles? Check back to our Ocean Futures Society Facebook page every day this week for a new shark riddle!
July 16, 2015 Riddle: My name is the same as an animal on land, but without any legs I do not stand, it is the bottom of the sea in which I lie, waiting patientTo be honest, I don’t really look like a shark, my body is flattened and I’m often buried in the dark, only my eyes can be seen from above, with my sharp trap-like jaws hidden in the mud, my plan of attack is to hide and wait, until a tasty treat swims in front of my gape, my name comes from the elongated wings on my back, but don’t hover above me or you might be my next snack! Who am I?
If you guessed Angel Shark, you’re right!
Angel sharks, Squatina, are a group of sharks that look similar to rays, with a flattened body and wing-like fins. They are stealth hunters who rely on burying themselves in the sand and mud and ambushing passing, unsuspecting prey. Following unregulated fishing for many years, angel sharks population number rapidly declined, and in the Atlantic so many were fished out that they became listed as “Critically Endangered.” Spread the word, share the knowledge about sharks vital role in our ocean health as we celebrate #SharkAwarenessDay this year!
July 15, 2015 Riddle: My name is the same as an animal on land, but without any legs I do not stand, it is the bottom of the sea in which I lie, waiting patiently on fishes and critters to spy, my home is along the edge of California’s coast and with birthing live pups I usually have less pups than most, I am known to be docile and even kind, within the kelp forests I am fun to find. Who am I?
If you guessed Leopard Shark, you’re right!
Leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata, are a species of sharks found along the Pacific coast of North America, feeding on small fish and invertebrates in the mud and sand. Large schools can be a common sight at some bays and estuaries, and during certain times of the year females will group together to find protection in shallow waters. They are commonly caught in commercial fisheries, and as all sharks are slow growing and reproduce later in life, they are vulnerable to local overfishing and depletion. Spread the word, share the knowledge about sharks vital role in our ocean health as we celebrate #SharkAwarenessDay this year!
July 14, 2015 Riddle: I am black and white, with polka dots and stripes, my head is flat and my tail sweeps wide, when I open my mouth water surges inside, if you knew what I am you’d think I’m a beast, even though it’s the tiniest of life that I feast. Who am I?
If you guessed Whale Shark, you’re right!
Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, are the largest fish species on Earth. They can grow up to 50 feet long and feed on the smallest life in the sea – drifting plankton. The increased demand for shark fins, including for whale sharks, threatens this species and all other sharks in the ocean. Spread the word, share the knowledge about sharks vital role in our ocean health as we celebrate #SharkAwarenessDay this year!