It’s Shark Week. You're allowed to be excited. If you already like sharks you will doubtless be thrilled that the internet is awash with sharp-finned fun. But if you don't know much about sharks, or are a bit wary because they're scary, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
In the Greenpeace oceans campaign we love the sharks. Sharks are all kinds of awesome. And, although we've never launched a specific 'Save the Sharks' campaign, a whole bunch of stuff we work on (by ourselves, and in collaboration with others) matters for sharks, and the things that directly affect them.
Because the truth is that despite the bad press, sharks have a lot more to worry about from humans than we have from them. Only a very few of the 350+ species of shark have ever attacked people, and the chances of you getting munched by a shark are less likely than you getting bumped off by a falling coconut or having an unfortunate incident with an electric toaster.
Meanwhile tens of millions of sharks are killed by humans every year. Many, if not most, are killed 'accidentally' in fishing gear, others killed directly for meat, fins or oil. We are also destroying many of their habitats and as a result, some species of sharks have plummeted in numbers by as much as 99% in recent years.
For us, sharks are important species that indicate the health of ocean ecosystems, and though it's a bit counter-intuitive, taking out predators like sharks can have really problematic consequences for the food web below them. Open ocean sharks are also oceanic ambassadors and long-distance travellers, often stopping off at food-rich seamounts like humans stopping at a motorway service station.
But the common image of a 'shark' only represents a small sample of the species out there. They're not all big, powerful and filled with large, sharp teeth. The wider shark family includes some really odd critters, with a huge diversity of shapes and sizes, from giant devil (manta) rays, to bizarre saw-billed sawfish, and deep sea denizens that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark canyon.
They live everywhere, from tropical lagoons to the deep ocean, coral reefs to coastal seas, and range in size from about the size of your foot, to about the size of a whale. Some are warm-blooded, some eat tiny plankton, some glow in the dark, some are eco-tourist attractions, but they all need your help.
Sharks need healthy oceans. Places like seamounts, coral reefs, and shark superhighways are prime candidates for marine reserves in our oceans, giving sharks and everything else room to thrive and survive.
Destructive fishing takes a massive toll on sharks: deep seas are plundered for sharks to be turned into oil, the fins of large sharks are cut off to feed a lucrative demand for sharkfin soup and countless millions of sharks are needlessly killed as bycatch in vast nets and on fishing hooks every year.
So if you're supporting our work to clean up seafood counters:to end destructive fishing practices, to change the world's tuna industry or to create a network of fully-protected marine reserves, then you are helping us help sharks. And if you're not doing that yet, please do – there's so much more we need to do!
But for this week, let's revel in the undisputed awesomeness of sharks, and remember, we're much scarier to them than they are to us.
Willie Mackenzie is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.