Debunking the Myths: Shark Bites and Shark Diving . . .
"Sharks are man-eaters."
Myth, media, and sensationalism have created our irrational, unfounded, and false fear of sharks as ruthless killing machines. The statistical reality is that sharks do not want to eat people. Shark incidents are extremely rare and even more rarely result in death. According to the International Shark Attack File, there was ONE shark-related human fatality in 2007 resulting from 71 human accidents with sharks. With an increasing number of the world's 6.5 billion people living near the shore and entering the water, these are infinitesimal numbers.
People are simply not a natural or desired source of food for sharks. Shark bites happen occasionally, but they are accidental, exploratory bites -- cases of mistaken identity. For example, a person on a surfboard may resemble an injured seal floating at the surface. A confused shark will typically bite once, realize that this is not a source of food, and leave. Fatalities that occur are generally due to loss of blood after the accident. If sharks were interested in eating people, there would be many more incidents, and the number of fatalaties would closely match the number of incidents, given sharks' advanced predatory skills.
"The ocean is full of sharks."
Since sharks have very few natural predators, they are designed to mature slowly and produce few young. Some sharks take up to 25 years to reach sexual maturity and bear only a few pups. Sharks simply cannot reproduce quickly enough to keep up with fishing pressures, and more than 1/4 of all shark species are listed as endangered. Shark populations worldwide are estimated to have decreased by more then 90%, and some species have declined by more than 95% in the last 30 years alone.
It is estimated that as many as SEVENTY-THREE MILLION sharks are killed each year, many just for their fins.
"The only good shark is a dead shark."
Sharks are critically important to the oceans and to all life that depends on the oceans... which obviously includes us. The oceans are the most important ecosystem on the planet, and contains life that absorbs most of the carbon dioxide (global warming gas) that we put into the atmosphere, converting it into more than half of the oxygen we breathe. That balance of life in the oceans is kept healthy by sharks because they reside at the top of the oceanic food chain. Shark populations have already dropped 90% and continue to be depleted at a rate faster than they can reproduce. The oceans and our life support systems are being destroyed.
Two of the largest threats to sharks are the lack of awareness that they are being chased to extinction, and ignorance of their importance. If the public knew what was going on, this situation could be turned around just as it has for "cute and cuddly" animals like tigers and bears. But we need that awareness.
Diving with sharks helps builds this awareness, as those divers become ambassadors for shark advocacy. This helps to unite the public around a new view of sharks. By allowing people to become personally involved, we are fueling the movement to protect our seas, and ultimately, human existence on earth.
"No one in their right mind would go diving with sharks."
People who enjoy up-close encounters with these magnificent animals often report having had an unforgettable and profound experience. Shark diving produces ambassadors for shark advocacy, and thus, is one of the most powerful conservation tools we have to protect this natural resource. It facilitates the beautiful and awe-inspiring photographs and video footage that simply cannot be obtained from behind the bars of a cage, bringing sharks into the homes and hopefully also the hearts of those who have not experienced them in person.
It appears that people who are most afraid of sharks have never met one. Those who have gone on shark dives generally describe an experience of great beauty, transcendence, and transformation. They come away from the experience with a strong appreciation of, and even affection for, these animals.
People who have gone diving with sharks describe them as "intelligent and peaceful", "charismatic", "magnificent", and "non-aggressive to humans" -the exact opposite of common perceptions of sharks as ferocious man-eaters.
Additionally, underwater photographers and filmmakers seek to capture this experience for others. Many powerful and beautiful photographs and films produced from these expeditions have led to a better understanding and appreciation for an animal that is critical to the health of our oceans.