August 9 – Overkill

Today’s factismal: On average, sharks kill 17 people each year. And, on average, people kill 100 million sharks each year.

One of the big draws of shark week is the recounting of horrific stories of people who were attacked by sharks. Every year, about 100 people get a closer encounter with the local selachimorpha (what marine biologists call sharks; it means “formed from cartilage”) than they expected, and about 17 of them die as a result. The encounters are rarely deliberate. It is just that from below the average swimming human looks a lot like the average swimming seal. And where we don’t taste all that nice to a shark, seals taste delicious! So the shark will swim up, thinking it is about to chow down on some yummy seal and then spits out the nasty human it accidentally eats!

A diver meets a tiger shark (Image courtesy Mary O'Malley)

A diver meets a tiger shark
(Image courtesy Mary O’Malley)

However, the human delight in attacking sharks is far more common and far deadlier. Sharks are hunted for food and their skins are used for leather or sandpaper while their livers are turned into popular medicines and their teeth are made into necklaces with whatever is left over being turned into food for aquarium fishes. As a result, sharks are killed at a rate of some 100 million each year. In other words, if sharks attacked people at the rate that people attacked sharks, it would take just four years for the sharks to kill off every man, woman, and child in the USA.

Counting the sharks on the ocean floor (Image courtesy UNEXCO)

Counting the sharks on the ocean floor
(Image courtesy UNEXSO)

Our voracious appetite for all things shark is having a definite effect. Nearly 30% of all shark species are now endangered or on the brink of going extinct and the number of sharks in the Mediterranean has dropped by 97% in the time since America was founded. In short, sharks need our help. And they really need the help of citizen scientists who also happen to like to swim! If you are in an area and see a shark, then please report it to Shark Savers. They’ll use your report to help create a census of the sharks and other species in the oceans and that information can help us to discover how many fish can be harvested without driving the species into extinction. To make a report, head over to:

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