As Shark Week comes to a close, I am a little disappointed to see some of the sensationalism around this year's festivities. Let's not forget, Shark Week is fun because it focuses on all of all the things that excite us about sharks -- the things that frighten and fascinate us but, as mentioned during "Top 10 Sharkdown", we really must keep some perspective. "In the past decade, sharks have attacked 380 people in America. Sixteen of those were fatal", according to The International Shark Attack Files making us "ten times more likely to choke on a hot dog".
I will say this -- we are visitors in their environment. Let's not forget that. When we invade their space, they are bound to get confused or maybe even a little annoyed. If a total stranger came to my house unannounced and started looking through my things, going through my closets and invading my space, I'm not sure how I would react. I was raised to take a deep breath and compose myself before reacting but I don't think sharks had that same training. Not to mention, they can only communicate one way. Given the number of people in the water and that there are over 400 species of sharks in the water, I'm actually surprised there haven't more shark attacks.
With so many changes to our environment, there are many shifts happening in the ocean as well. We, as a society, need to recognize these shifts and adapt accordingly because sharks may be migrating inland more in coming years. That is why tagging these sharks is so important. We need to understand their migratory patterns. We may very well need to learn to coexist with sharks and that is not necessarily a bad thing but it will involve overcoming a lot of misconceptions and unfounded fears. The ways in which we conduct our research needs to be very carefully thought out as well. Researchers tend to feed sharks to attract them but "people" should not be associated with "food" in the minds of sharks. There are ways of attracting sharks that do not involve directly connecting oneself to the food source. Additionally, humans do not want to be the source of pain to the animal. If we are constantly poking or prodding them and hurting them, they will come to see us as potential threat and will begin to treat us as such.
Sharks are not our enemies and we do not want to make enemies of them. I am a huge fan of Shark Week but my favorite part is when they dispel the myths about sharks, not perpetuate people's anxieties. During one episode, I was struck by a pop quiz that noted you are more likely to be killed by vending machines, bees, lawnmowers, or flowerpots than you are by a shark! Doesn't that just say it all?
Follow SidneyAnne Stone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SidneyAnneStone