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guitar shark

The cry of “shark”, for the majority of people strikes fear. The accounts of “shark infested waters” and the lasting terror of the film Jaws makes it reasonable perhaps.

But no it’s an irrational fear. On a tropical holiday your most dangerous pursuit is still sunbathing and you are 30 times more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a shark. Deer are ten times more deadly if you want to talk statistics, but let’s take a lead from the author of Jaws, Peter Benchley, talking in 2000:   

“What I now know, which wasn’t known when I wrote Jaws, is that there is no such thing as a rogue shark which develops a taste for human flesh, No one appreciates how vulnerable they are to destruction.’’

Benchley was 27 when he started writing Jaws and spent the rest of his life advocating for oceanic conservation. 

This is a strange blog for 2macs! In the office we were chatting about World Ocean Day on the 8th June and I’m well known for “banging on about sharks”. No offence apparently, none taken! It got me thinking about an introduction I often use when running collaborative research groups which goes like this:

  • What’s your role?
  • What are you working on at the moment?
  • But what are you REALLY up to?

Try it, you’ll find out lots about people and the energy in groups is amazing to see and hear. So what I am REALLY up to is standing up for sharks and appealing for urgent help for these phenomenal and close to extinction creatures. 

Would a few stats help my quest for shark appreciation?

  • There are over 500 species of shark including rays and one of my favourites in British waters, the Porbeagle who have been observed chasing after others who are trailing pieces of kelp in some sort of tag rugby game. 
  • Yes, there are sharks in UK waters, at least 21 permanent resident species with visits from the likes of the Blue Sharks.
  • Sharks are in every sea and ocean around the world and some pre-date dinosaurs. They have survived five mass-extinction events and remain anatomically unchanged… why change perfection?!
  • Shortfin makos can swim at speeds of over 40mph. 
  • The oldest living shark is the Greenland Shark that can live to over 500 years old. Imagine that, an animal is on this earth which was born when Henry VIII was on the throne!

Ok, ok, let’s talk about the biting. 

Their teeth regrow throughout their lifetime with some species having 15 rows of teeth in each jaw. They are apex predators, like lions and tigers and we like them. Apex predators play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Remove sharks and the larger predatory fish such as groupers increase, feed on the herbivores and without the little grazing critters the balance shifts to be algae dominating and the coral can’t compete. We like coral. 

Yes, yes, sharks aren’t cuddly. People don’t like them in the same way that they love dolphins – who are actually the little smiling bullies of the ocean…but don’t get me started on their proclivities. Even worse than not being cute, the biting habit of sharks gets them in the paper. What sells papers? Fights and fear. The press have not covered themselves in glory…ever…but with sharks they really go for it. 

Some (not all) species of sharks have bitten humans. Contrary to the news stories, these are still very rare. Deaths by unprovoked shark bites has been an average of six per year rising to 10 in 2023. A rise has happened before but may be to do with a change in habit, with sharks moving closer to shores. Maybe. But what is true is that they are starving. The sea is changing and as we continue to allow the fragile ecosystem to disintegrate they simply can’t find food. Elephants kill 500 people per year, we like them. I’ll stop that now. Actually, no I haven’t, dogs kill 30,000 of us. I’ll leave it now.  

Ok, let’s end on the help needed. It is estimated that 75% of shark species are currently threatened with extinction. With British sharks, 50% are threatened or near threatened. 

The causes are overfishing, bycatch and for their fins. Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored. Shark fin soup is big business with estimates that this multi-billion dollar industry has profits second only to the illegal drug trade. The double whammy is that their gestation periods are long. Typically it’s around 12 months with some species such as the frilled shark being pregnant for 3.5 years. If you want long timescales, remember our Greenland Shark? Reaches sexual maturity at 100 years old! 

Have I convinced you? Sharks are amazing creatures and despite their bad press they are not as dangerous as bees – I will never stop! If you want to help look up the and you too can be REALLY up to something. 

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