At the Adventure Club, we often meet people unfamiliar with the sea in our Discover Scuba Diving program or on our snorkeling tours. It is sometimes hard to believe how many of them ask us if sharks are dangerous.
Everytime they hear the word shark, the first image that comes to their mind is the one of a blood-thirsty monster. No wonder why. For decades, our whole culture of sharks was coming from horror movies showing sharks as psychopaths killers, hiding in the depths waiting to get a bite of the first unfortunate swimmer who would dare to enter the water.
A movie like Jaws is a biological nonsense regarding to shark behaviour. Nevertheless, it have had a huge influence in our conception of sharks, spreading the myth of the underwater killing machine as well as a profond fear of the sea with such an efficiency that even today, an incredible number of people are afraid to enter the water, especially in areas where sharks are present.
Even ocean experts like the team of the famous Captain Cousteau used to describe sharks as vicious predators in the 50′, slaughtering them mercilessly on the deck of the Calypso, the vessel that became a symbol of ocean conservation later on in the 70′ and the 80′.
Like wolfes, snakes, barracudas or morrays, sharks were for long the victims of their impressive appearance. They were qualified as dangerous by people that were actually too afraid to have a true meeting with them and understand their real nature.
Firstly, only a tiny fraction of the 465 species of sharks used to be considered as dangerous, including the bull shark, the tiger shark and of course the Great White. But that didn’t prevent people to consider any shark as a potential predator for them.
The terrible reputation of sharks reaches sometimes such a high level that we often find people believing that we have to get rid of sharks, otherwise they will get closer to beaches because of fish disapearance, and start eating people instead. Unfortunately, this absurd argument is often used to justify the extermination of sharks.
Victims of finning, overfishing and bi-kills, sharks are killed at a rate of 100 million per year. Due to their slow reproduction (it takes up to 40 years to a whaleshark to reach sexual maturity), sharks global population is absolutely unable to recover and is therefore facing extinction.
Sharks have been in the ocean for 400 millions of years. Because they have been shaping the ecosystem for so long, they are an essential element of the underwater world. They are often called the doctors of the sea because they keep the fish populations healthy through natural selection. They have had a huge role in making the ocean what it is today, an ecosystem of a incredible biodiversity producing up to 80% of the world’s oxygen. And 11,417 of them are killed per hour. Now, who is the psychopath killer here?
We must change radically our opinion about sharks.
Let it be said. There are no dangerous sharks, only unaware people. Accidents almost never happen with scuba divers, and when they do happen, it is because the diver is trying to feed the shark, to touch him or to ride him. Sharks show agressivity towards people only if they feel threatened and try to protect themselves. In other words, if you have the proper behaviour, if you are an aware and respectful diver, you don’t get in trouble with sharks.
A great number of divers approach sharks and interact with them in a responsible manner, even the so-called dangerous ones, the so-called man-eaters. It shows us that the matter is not how dangerous sharks can be, but how well we handle the situation. The Adventure Club is taking divers observing sharks on a regular basis. And guess what, they all come back in one piece! Most importantly, they come back amazed by these beautiful creatures.
When people join our Shark Watch Tour, their opinion about these wonders of the sea is changed. After a half day with us and 2 fun dives observing blacktip reef sharks or leopard sharks, the first image that comes to their mind when they hear the word shark is the one of a marvel of creation, the result of millions of years of evolution. The myth of the psychopath killer collapses and all what remains is beauty.
Getting over our fears implies knowing more about what scares us. It is not darkness or death that scares us, it is the unknown. It’s the same with the sea in general, and with sharks in particular. Scuba diving shows us what’s underneath the surface. We dive into the unknown to realize that there is nothing to be afraid of. And as we discover the wonders of the underwater world, even our darkest fears disapear.