In 1975 Universal Pictures released a film that would change the way the world viewed sharks. 41 years later, this classic movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, is still played on the HD television screens in many homes across the world. I am sure by now you have figured out which blockbuster hit I am referring to…you guessed it, Jaws. Jaws is now referred to as one of the greatest films ever made and up until Star Wars was released in 1977, it was the highest-grossing film of all time.
While Jaws altered the world of cinema, it also negatively influenced the way many people perceived sharks and continues to effect perceptions to this day. The great white shark was portrayed as a vicious man-eater, when the truth is sharks, including the “ferocious” great white, do not like the taste of humans. While great white sharks are carnivorous, their diet consists of fish, cetaceans, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, and seabirds. Great whites favor mammals with a high content of energy-rich fat; humans are too bony for their liking. Most attacks on humans occur in low-visibility water when the great white is having a “test-bite” and in most cases does not bite again.
We have not yet encountered a great white shark in the BVI waters which we regularly dive, but we do see sharks more and more. We love it! The majority of the sharks you can encounter on your dives with us are Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks. Saying that, we do also have black tip reef sharks, lemon sharks and way out, where the fisherman see them Tiger and Hammerhead sharks. There are over 400 different species of sharks in the world!
Sharks are incredible animals and here are some interesting and fun facts about them which you should know and that might even change your perception on them;
Sharks don’t just eat anything; they are actually pretty picky eaters. Unfortunately for us, they don‘t have hands to feel something first, so sometimes, they will take a bite to get a taste and see what it is. If they don’t like the taste (hence humans) they will just spit it back out. They don’t chew their food; instead they just swallow the whole thing.
What seems like to most harmless shark is actually the shark responsible for most shark bites. Often, divers have a bad habit of pulling the tails of nurse sharks, to get them from underneath a ledge and have a better look at them. This often results in them getting bitten. Well, how would you feel if you were asleep in bed and someone pulled your leg, would you not want to hit them? Luckily for sharks, they have an unlimited supply of teeth. When they lose a tooth, one of the backup ones spins forward. They are rumored to go through about 20,000 teeth in their lifetime.
Despite the fact that these animals are so fascinating, a lot of people are terrified of even the sound of them. Looking at some statistics though shows us that we should not be so terrified of this animal. Instead, sharks should be more terrified of us.
On average 5 people per year die after being attacked by a shark. Now before your mind starts wandering and you convince yourself to never get in the water again, here is another statistic for you. According to the Shark Research Institute humans kill over 100 million sharks per year, yes you read that number correctly; 100 million. The most heartbreaking detail about this statistic is that many large sharks are killed just for their fins. The rest of their body is either thrown back in the water or left on land to deteriorate. So if you are not a fan of sharks, it may be a bit unfair, especially since vending machines, falling coconuts, and cows kill far more humans than sharks do each year.
Whether you are a scuba diver, snorkeler, or just a water lover, we have a duty and responsibility to protect the ocean and everything in it that calls the ocean home. Check out Project Aware’s Sharks in Peril program and see what you can do to save the sharks!