How to Have a Conversation About #SharkWeek Without Mentioning Shark Bites

by Ryan Schleeter

July 9, 2015

#SharkWeek is officially upon us! Once a year, the Discovery Channel does us all the great favor of featuring a boatload of shark-related programming in what’s become a glorious week for ocean lovers.

Grey reef sharks.

© Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

#SharkWeek is officially upon us! Once a year, the Discovery Channel does us all the great favor of featuring a boatload of shark-related programming in what’s become a glorious week for ocean lovers.

At Greenpeace, we love any excuse to talk about how cool sharks are. And we especially love any opportunity to talk about how violent and threatening sharks are not.

Somewhere along the line, sharks got a bad reputation. Films like Jaws, Sharknado and—my personal favorite—Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus have depicted sharks as creatures that should be feared, not revered. As a result, the conversation on sharks tends to focus on how dangerous they can be to humans, conveniently ignoring the fact that many shark species are actually facing extinction due to human activities.

So let’s change that conversation. Next time you’re gabbing about Shark Week at the watercooler, skip the shark attacks and try these facts instead.

1) Humans Kill Sharks More Than They Kill Us

Do sharks sometimes attack and kill people? Sure, about 12 people per year. While that’s certainly not insignificant, it pales in contrast to the amount of sharks we kill every year. In fact, humans kill more than 11,000 sharks every hour. That stat comes from a 2013 study in the journal Marine Policy, which was widely covered after the release of this genius infographic made by marketer Joe Chernov and designer Robin Richards.

In reality, you’re more likely to be bitten by another person than a shark.

Graphic by care2.

Graphic by care2.

2) Scientists Discover New Sharks All the Time

In the last 30 years, almost 250 species of sharks have been discovered, more than half of the world’s known species.

Some of them are incredibly rare. The megamouth shark, for instance, wasn’t discovered by scientists until 1976. There have only been 41 known sightings of the species. And earlier this year, scientists in the Gulf of Mexico encountered the second pocket shark ever discovered 36 years after the first was found off the coast of Peru.

One intrepid researcher alone has discovered 24 new shark species since the 1980s.

Megamouth Shark

Image via Discovery.

3) Shark Embryos Sometimes Eat Each Other in the Womb

Shark embryos of certain species have been known to cannibalize each other while in utero. Why? They have different fathers and compete so one father’s pup is born and not others. Most often, it’s the largest, most aggressive embryos that wins out. This could be an evolutionary advantage for the mother, as stronger young are more likely to survive and pass on her genes.

As a courtesy to the winning embryo, shark mothers make a sacrifice of their own. When it’s almost time to give birth, female sharks will lose their appetites to ensure they won’t eat their own pups.

4) When Sharks Flirt, They Flirt Hard

Just like us, sharks have to do their fair share of courting in order to attract a mate. Unlike humans, they do it with their teeth.

To show his romantic interest, male sharks of some species will bite a female—hard.

Blue Shark near the Azores

Male blue sharks like this one show their intention to mate by biting females.

5) There’s No Shark Week Without Sharks

Sharks are an extremely important part of ocean conservation.

Why are sharks important? As top predators, they play crucial roles in ocean ecosystems. Sharks keep populations of smaller fish in check, regulating the balance of entire ecosystems. Because they tend to eat old, weak or sick prey, they keep fish populations—including some of the fish we eat—in good condition.

Sharks are so important they’re what scientists call a keystone species—without them, an entire ecosystem can collapse.

Can’t get enough of sharks? Follow @greenpeaceusa and #SaveSharks as we bring you the best in what Shark Week has to offer for ocean lovers.

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a senior communications specialist with Greenpeace USA covering climate and energy. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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