Busting Myths!

From Andy Dehart, Director of Biological Programs at the National Aquarium in DC and Discovery Channel Shark Advisor

Shark Week is finally here! No one loves Shark Week more than I do. I have been fascinated with sharks since my first sighting at just 5 years old when  I was scuba diving with my dad. I have had the opportunity to study sharks for most of my career, and have had many close and personal encounters with these perfect predators. However, sharks continue to amaze me each and every day.

For the last 21 years Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has featured programming that aims to teach people that we don’t have much to fear in sharks. Unfortunately, our fascination with sharks seems to be tied too closely with fear.

I encourage people to tune into Shark Week to learn more about sharks, how they rule the marine ecosystem and yet, are being threatened by man. Catch a special edition of Mythbusters tonight at 8 pm EST. For now, I’d like to leave you with a mythbusters of my own…

Myth: There are too many sharks in the sea!

The truth is that many shark populations are decreasing at alarming rates.  Just like most aquatic animals, sharks are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation by man, habitat destruction, and pollution. The chief reasons for the decrease in population are bycatch (when fishermen toss away unwanted fish in their nets as garbage), overfishing and “finning,” where sharks are killed for shark fin soup. These animals deserve respect and need protection. If people don’t protect sharks, the ecological balance of the oceans will be severely threatened.

Myth: All sharks are the same.

There actually is no typical shark. The nearly 400 species of sharks vary widely in habitat, size, features, diet and lifestyle. Sharks range from about six inches long, such as the cigar shark species, up to about 45 feet long like the whale shark.

Myth: If you swim near sharks they will always attack you.

The chances of being attacked by a shark are unlikely.  In 2007 there were only 71 shark attacks worldwide and of those attacks only one was fatal. For perspective, people are 250 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark. So, I encourage you to go out and enjoy the ocean this summer! And here are some helpful tips to avoid sharks attacks:

  • Avoid swimming at dawn or dusk when visibility is decreased.
  • Avoid areas where waves are breaking, as turbulent water makes it difficult for sharks to see  and determine whether you are prey.
  • Do not wear jewelry in the water. Sharks are attracted to shiny fishes, and jewelry may resemble their scales.
  • Do not swim near schools of small bait fish, which are favorite foods of some sharks.

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