By Madison Li
“Shaaaarks!” The iconic phrase and tune rings in your ears for days after you watch Jaws, a Spielberg movie from the ‘70s Why do sharks have such poor reputation? Why can’t we share the ocean with them?
Shark attacks are universally known, but there are misconceptions about how deadly sharks actually are. Many movies and documentaries portray sharks as the ‘enemy.’ Movie like “Jaws,” “The Meg,” “Sharknado,” #sharknado3 and many more conjure fear in people. There are very few accurate interpretations about sharks, including the main controversial idea that sharks hunt for the kill, not for the food. As a result of this misinterpretation, certain cultures have found ways to utilize one of the most prized parts of a shark, the fin, and at the same time, killing off the population of sharks to the extent of near extinction. However, there are many scientists and shark conservationists that advocate for the preservation of these beautiful creatures.
What’s the fuss?
The first reported shark attack in America occurred in 1916, “when a spate of attacks off the Jersey Shore killed four[people] in two weeks” . The most recent attack was on September 17th, 2018, when a 13 year old boy was fatally bitten off the shore of San Diego, California. He recovered and is in stable condition, however, shark haters use attacks like this to prove that sharks are a threat to man’s safety in the ocean. On the contrary, without sharks there would be an imbalance in the food web. Sharks help control the population of seals, fish, and many other preys. They also supply food for fish such as pilot fish, who eat parasites off the sharks’ backs. Any change to this relationship can end up affecting the whole biome, and not in a good way.
Like any predators, Sharks encounter with humans becomes deadly due to their instinct for survival when they feel threatened or because they are drawn to any sound or vibration, which is amplified in the water due to the absorption of sound. #sharkchewed_Surfboards are especially deceiving because they appear as a seal when view from under the water.
What is being done to stop this?
Many cultures see shark fins as delicacies or medicinal values. Approximately 73 million are used in shark fin soup annually . Although there are regulations that attempt to control the usage and killing of sharks, it is still a crisis that must be dealt with. Celebrities have been vocal of their distaste for finning. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay calls finning “the worst act of animal cruelty I’ve ever seen!!”  Basketball star Yao Ming ( vocal in nofinsoup) said “when the buying stops, the killing can too.” as the camera rolls and he pushed away a bowl of shark fin soup. Finning involves slicing a fin from a living shark then tossing it back into the water. This seemingly kind act of mercy is actually still a death sentence for the shark because it can’t swim or breath and is defenseless. As a result of this assault on sharks, more than 70 shark species are near extinction. Although many organizations are supportive of conserving the lives of these gentle creatures, more needs to be done to raise awareness. The public needs to be educated about sharks. The killing will stop when people understand sharks.
How can you help stop this?
By the time I was in fifth grade, I had raised $2500 to donate to the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami. Their #rsmas_Adopt-A-Shark Program enables donors to pick a specific shark species—I chose Isurus oxyrinchus(#mako shark)—and when caught, the donors would be able to name their shark. Once tagged, RSMAS scientists can track the shark’s route, find where it hangs out, where it spends its time, etc. Programs like this enables citizen scientists to take part in conservation in ways that are meaningful. The next generation of citizens can make more informed decisions because of the information scientists are collecting today.
Personally, sharks have been my favorite species of fish ever since I was in first grade. Many of my friends find it disturbing. I believe that it was something that made me different and interesting; it is what distinguishes me from other kids. Yes, I love the so-called, ‘man-eaters,’ but I also love some of the most important and misunderstood animals on the planet, and will continue to advocate for their survival until the day I die. I am an avid scuba diver. I can’t imagine diving one day off the coast of Key West and not seeing any Black Tip Nurse sharks or Sand sharks; I ache for the future generation of children who will never have the pleasure of swimming with the sharks because they are extinct due to over-fishing and cruel finning. Always remember this: Sharks are friends, not food.
 New York Times, (7/11/2016), Centuries Later, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/11/nyregion/a-century-later-memories-of-fatal-shark-attacks-linger-in-new-jersey.html
 Than, Ker. (09/26/2006). Live Science. Shark Slaughter: 73 Millions Killed Each Year, https://www.livescience.com/1027-shark-slaughter-73-million-killed-year.html
 Ramsay, Gordon, (10/14/2011), Shark Bait, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=388Y1VVBYd8
 Fobar, Rachel, (01/16/2019), National Geographic, Shark Fin is Banned in 12 U.S. states - but It’s Still On the Menu, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/01/restaurants-sell-shark-fin-soup-despite-state-bans/
 Fairclough, Caty, Shark Finning: Sharks Turned Prey, https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/sharks-rays/shark-finning-sharks-turned-prey