How scared should we really be?
Shark attacks are super scary, but how common are they really?
On average sharks kill fewer than six people worldwide per year. In the United States, we average less than one death from an average of 30-40 actual shark attacks around the world per year. More people win the lottery each year than get mauled by sharks.
Another way to think about it? Animals like deer, dogs, and even cows are more likely to kill us than sharks are.
Certainly puts things in perspective, especially given sensationalized media coverage of the attacks that do unfortunately occur. At the same time, all these stats don't change the fact that shark attacks, although rare, are still scary as !@$%.
Here's the thing that doesn't get enough attention, though: Humans are killing tons of sharks.
No, scratch that. We're killing millions of tons of sharks.
Over 100 million sharks are killed every year for a variety of reasons, like finning and bycatch (getting caught in nets and other commercial fishing gear meant for fish like tuna). In the last 15 years, the populations of certain shark species have decreased by 60%-90%. In addition, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reported last year that a quarter of the world's shark and ray population is currently threatened by extinction.
If we assume a global population of 7 billion, that makes humans almost 17 million times more likely to kill a shark than to be killed by a shark each year. Yikes!
But why is this a problem? Because oceans need sharks. And we need oceans.
Killing sharks might sound good to some. No more sharks means my near-zero chance of being eaten by one becomes actual-zero, right?
Let me put it this way, sharks and the ocean have a pretty long history. In fact, sharks have been around for over 400 million years — "keystone" species, meaning that the overall health of marine ecosystems are dependent on them. They not only keep other species' populations stable and healthy, but they also contribute to the vitality of seabeds and other underwater habitats like coral reefs.
You probably have your own reasons for loving the ocean (and wanting it to stay in tip-top shape), but here's a few more to consider:
- It provides oxygen.
- It provides food.
- It helps with greenhouse gas reduction.
- It helps temperature regulation.
- We can use it for recreational activities.
- It's home to cute animals like sea otters...
Clearly, there's a lot more to know about sharks than their rare attacks on humans.
This great infographic from healtheo360 (by way of Visually) lays out some interesting things to keep in mind next time a shark attack makes headlines. Check it out:
Fact check time! There are two clarifications needed for the infographic above. Firstly, as you might guess, a great white shark doesn't weigh 0.5 ounces ... more like 2.5 tons, on average. And as we referenced above, the populations of certain shark species have decreased by 60% to 90%, not all sharks.