Get to know the world’s sharks, because they are not nearly as scary as you think. We do more harm to them. Great white sharks kill very few people each year, and basking sharks are so harmless, they will swim right past you (with their mouths wide open)!
Harmless basking sharks swim around many waters (including the coast of Britain) during the warmer months. But the abuse to sharks worldwide is immense. So let’s start with how to help our own basking sharks, then move on to what we can do to help all sharks worldwide. All sharks are classed as endangered species.
Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish (the largest are whale sharks). Both are harmless, they are filter feeders that swallow huge amounts of water then extract through their gills, so are greatly affected by plastic waste (they have teeth but hardly use them). The only danger is if they leap out of the water, and crash down (this caused 3 men to drown in the 1930s, when their boat capsized).
Mostly found in the Hebrides of Scotland and Isle of Man, you do sometimes see them in Cornwall in summer months, but they are very shy. No need to run screaming from the beach, they won’t harm you. One diver said a 10ft basking shark with a 1-metre wide mouth came up to her, ignored her and then just swam away. When a basking shark dies, the carcass rots to reveal a small head and long neck, which is why the term ‘sea monster’ was created.
And if you are thinking ‘Nessie the Loch Ness Monster’, DNA tests show there are no basking sharks in this area, the latest idea is a giant eel.
British Divers Marine Life Rescue recently had to assist a stranded basking shark in Yorkshire, but it was decided to put it to sleep, due to brain damage from lack of oxygen. It’s nice that the whole community tried to rescue a ‘shark’, showing that most people are aware they are harmless. Tips from British Divers Marine Life Rescue:
- Support the animal in an upright position, dig trenches under the pectoral fins
- Cover with wet sheets, towels (or seaweed) and douse with water.
- Take ID features to give injury details, and note where the creature is (sand, shade, sun) and the weather and state of the sea.
- Do NOT release, until the rescue team has arrived.
Great White Sharks
Yes, great white sharks look scary. That’s because they have 7 rows of 300 teeth and can indeed tear off limbs and kill people, and it does happen. But if you cross the road, you could get hit by a bus. 100 million sharks are killed yearly, and they are an endangered species, that helps to regulate the planet. You are more likely to be killed by a hot dog.
Nature is sad, and it would be nice if all sharks and tigers were vegetarian, but they aren’t. Sharks eat elephant seals, small whales and sea turtles. This keeps nature in balance, and also keeps seagrass on the ocean floor at proper levels. It’s believed that sharks usually only attack as they mistake the ‘white of a surfboard’ for a fish. They rarely eat a whole human, they are almost just biting out of curiosity.
White sharks get undeservedly bad press. How many people do you think get killed by sharks each year? 100s? 1000s? Around 10. Compare that to mosquitoes that kill 750,000 people a year, and humans that kill almost half a million people per year. You are more likely to get killed by a vending machine, selfie (not paying attention near a cliff), a champagne cork hitting you at a wedding, a falling coconut, a faulty toaster, or even not understanding your doctor’s messy handwritten prescription, than getting killed by a shark. Apparently around 25 people get buried alive each year in the world, and that’s still a lot more likely than being killed by a shark. The man who wrote the book ‘Jaws’ says he now regrets it, due to the bad press it gave sharks.
It’s a myth that swimming on your period could attract sharks. They can smell 1 drop of blood in 100 litres of water. But they are not interested in your menstruation, they would know this was not the blood of a prey animal.
How to Avoid Shark Attacks
These tips are from Florida expert Gavin Naylor and his colleagues, who says ‘If you are frightened, you can always stay out of the water’.
- Swim in groups, but not at dawn or dusk.
- Don’t swim near leaping schools of fish (prey to a shark)
- Don’t wear light-reflecting jewellery (it will look like a darting fish to a shark)
- Don’t splash around, (sharks may this is an injured animal)
- Wear dark clothing (a black wetsuit is best)
Bite Back is a UK charity concerned with 3 areas of shark welfare. It is at the forefront of many of the welfare issues listed below. Its campaign director writes ‘If you want to come face-to-face with the ocean’s most deadly predator, you only have to look in the mirror’. You can use their site to report restaurants selling shark fin soup, and send public tweets to supermarkets, to ask them to stop selling shark and other endangered fish.
- Shark Fin Soup. Half of all sharks killed each year, is due to this awful trade, where sharks have their fins removed, and are thrown back in the sea to die. Considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, it has no taste, and is used for decoration: you can make vegan shark fin soup easily. When abroad, never eat anything dodgy, as you may not know what you are eating. FedEx apparently ships shark fin soup, so boycott them, until they stop.
- Don’t buy or wear shark’s teeth. These are sometimes fossils, but often from killed sharks. Often sold as mementos or jewellery in Florida.
- Stop imported ‘legal’ shark. Although illegal to sell here, the law says anyone can bring a limited amount (makes over 700 bowls) of dried shark fin for personal use. Of course this gets sold on the black market. Write to your MP to ask what the government is doing about it.
Did you know there is a website called ‘Boris Johnson Lies’? One is that he promised to ban shark fin soup, once we came out of the EU. He told Channel 4 news political editor Gary Gibbon that the government could not ban shark fin soup due to EU law, but could when we left. But an expert from University of Sussex said that shark finning has been banned in the EU for ages, and banning imports would not violate World Trade Organisation rules. Verdict: false. He could ban it tomorrow if he wished, and could before we left the EU.
The Spectacular Lives of Sharks is a beautifully illustrated book to explore the mysterious and misunderstood lives of sharks. Showcasing the world’s most fascinating sharks (from the Great White to the wonderful Wobblegong), discover:
- The biggest shark that ever lived
- A shark with a cookie-cutter jaw!
- Which sharks can glow in the dark
- The shark that can live at least 250 years
Find out why sharks are so important to our oceans, and learn how we can help to protect them. Lots of fun facts and illustrated scenes, bring the underwater world of sharks to life.